The year is 1895. In a Bordeaux village, brothers Paul and Raymond Lillet begin commercial production of a Sauternes-based elixir known as Kina Lillet. A bittersweet concoction steeped with cinchona and citrus, Lillet quickly becomes popular enough to spawn imitators, leading to an advertising campaign that encourages consumers to “avoid knock-offs.” The aperitif was (and is) often served with a citrus twist, sometimes along with ice and/or sparkling water.
The same year, across the Atlantic, a gentleman by the name of George Kappeler publishes a book called Modern American Drinks, and for the first time in print describes an old-fashioned cocktail:
“Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes Angostura bitters, a small piece ice, a piece lemon-peel, one jigger whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve…”
Fast-forward to 2007: Cocktail purists cry out against the modern practice of befouling an otherwise respectable Old Fashioned with a shot of soda water. Some highly orthodox practitioners even go so far as to ban the presence of muddled orange, advocating a return to the absolute original. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a cocktail geek declare the Old Fashioned their litmus test of a bartender’s skill, their canary in a cocktail coal-mine. Even the merest splash of fizz is enough to send them running out the door, or at least huddling behind the safety of the beer list.
I’m with these libational Luddites, at least most of the way. But I find a touch — not a hearty glug — of soda a pleasant lightening agent in an Old Fashioned. Omitting the orange seems a tad austere for my palate; even the otherwise old-school DrinkBoy admits that the citrus adds “some useful and interesting flavors”. Rye is my whiskey preference here, but I will not deny a well-made bourbon variation, or even scotch in a pinch. In the realm of cocktail snobbery, I’m not quite Orthodox. I’m also a fan of tinkering with tradition, of using the classics as a springboard for modern variations.
So imagine my amusement with this entry on the drinks list at Downtown, a popular pre-theater stop across the bay in Berkeley:
Fashionably Lillet: Sugar cube, a slice of orange, brandied cherry & a dash of bitters muddled together with Lillet, served tall and cool with soda.
Hey there, that’s a clever hybrid of the continental Lillet & Soda and the all-american Old Fashioned. I’ve got no way of knowing if the bartender was poking good-natured fun at the soda-scoffing set, but the name alone tells us she’s got a sense of humor.
Amused at the idea, I order one up. Alas, the pint-glass concoction I’m served falls a bit short of the mark. Lillet’s a fairly mellow aperitif, after all, and even with plenty of ice, 16 ounces of headroom means the drink ends up tasting like lightly flavored soda water. It’s also unwieldy, so much so that the straw isn’t just a clever summery touch, but a necessity. And then there’s all that muddled fruit in the glass, which gums up the straw.
Back at home, we fiddle with the ingredients and try to come up with a solution. We futz with proportions, with glassware, with preparation methods, and with ratios, all without success. We set the recipe aside, and go about our summer.
This month’s Mixology Monday theme — Fizz, hosted by Gabriel at cocktailnerd — seemed like a good excuse to take another pass. While reading up on Old Fashioned history, a line in Robert Hess’s highly opinionated recipe post catches my eye:
“…the maraschino cherry doesn’t really add anything at this [muddling] stage besides a mangled carcass and a little bit of extra sugar…”
Hmm. He’s onto something there. The next time through, I leave out the cherry, saving it for garnish. The resulting drink is better, but still fairly weak. Adding more Lillet — the natural route to a stronger cocktail — makes the drink one-dimensional; the aperitif’s mildness, in this case, is no asset.
Suddenly, the solution becomes obvious: It’s a riff on an Old Fashioned, after all — why not a splash of rye? (Bourbon could work, but I’m trying to keep the sweetness in check.) It may have taken all summer, but I’m happy with the final mix: A light, summery cooler with a nod to both sides of The Pond.
- adapted from Downtown
1 cube natural sugar
1 orange slice, halved (divided use)
3 dashes aromatic bitters
1/2 oz rye or bourbon
2-1/2 oz Lillet blanc
3 oz soda water
brandied cherries, for garnish
Fill a highball glass with ice, arranging half of the orange slice among the cubes; set aside. In a mixing glass, muddle the sugar, half of the orange slice, and bitters together. Add the rye and the Lillet, and top with ice. Stir until well chilled, then strain into the prepared highball. Top with soda, and garnish with brandied cherries.
The piña colada enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame in 1979, long before the idea of cocktails really entered my brain. The reason: A pop song by one-hit-wonder Rupert Holmes called “Escape”… better known as “The Piña Colada Song“.
Unfortunately, just like the song, most piña coladas are saccharine-sweet and filled with all kinds of nasty things you’d rather not think about. The list of ingredients on your average can of coconut creme — hydrogenated soybean oil? polysorbate 80? — is almost as gag-inducing as the idea of a married couple cruising the personals and accidentally answering one another’s ads.
But, in the name of retro authenticity, we went ahead and tried it the usual way, with Coco Lopez and store-bought pineapple juice. We got one sip into our drinks before deciding that all we could taste was chemicals and cans, and dumping them down the drain.
We bought a coconut and briefly toyed with the idea of making our own cream. But, realistically, if we’re not willing to go to such lengths to make a curry, why the hell would we do it for a cocktail? Thinking along these lines, we cracked a can of Thai coconut milk and skimmed off the cream, adding a little simple syrup for sweetness. Good idea, terrible outcome: The homemade version was unpalatably greasy, even after a spin in the blender. We gave up the idea and moved on to other drinks.
But when one of our favorite cocktail blogs decided to host a tiki cocktail contest, our thoughts returned to the unfinished experiment: the piña colada that we knew just had to be possible. We hunted high and low for chemical-free recipes, but every last one seemed to be in thrall to Señor Lopez and his additive-addled faux de coco.
During a stop at Trader Joe’s last weekend, we stumbled on the perfect antidote right there in the freezer: An all-natural coconut sorbet. After a little research, we discovered that a handful of brands offer similar products, most with few adulterating ingredients beyond coconut and water and sugar. We tinkered with Gary Reagan‘s blended piña colada recipe to adjust for the natural products’ sweetness or lack thereof. Different sorbets (not to mention different pineapples) will require your own good judgment, so think of the measurements below as a blueprint more than a hard-and-fast recipe.
Whatever your final mix, though, please promise me you’ll steer clear of the personals.
Piña Colada au naturel
– makes two
1/2 pint coconut sorbet
1/2 cup pineapple chunks (fresh or frozen)
1 cup crushed ice
2 oz pineapple juice (preferably fresh or from frozen concentrate)
4 oz dark rum
pineapple (wedge, chunk, or spear), for garnish
maraschino cherries, for garnish
In a blender, combine all the ingredients except the rum, and blend until ice is well blended. Add the rum and pulse until well combined. Pour into two chilled hurricane glasses, and garnish with the pineapple wedge and cherry; paper parasols or plastic monkeys are, of course, optional but highly desired.
When I read Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s recent post outlining his list of Dos and Donts of Mojitos, I found myself nodding in vigorous agreement. When I got to this entry, I broke into a wide grin:
“Do not order a mojito when the weather is below 70°F. This is almost as bad as ordering a Bloody Mary after the sun has gone down.”
I can’t tell you how many winter nights I’ve spent at the Zig Zag watching Murray Stenson painstakingly craft mojitos for some clueless clown. The phenomenon became so epidemic a few years ago that Cameron and I were moved to concoct an alternative, off-season rum drink for Murray to offer. (It’s an amateurish thing called the Wonderland — as in “Walking in a Winter…” and Murray graciously humors us by keeping the recipe in the box behind the bar.)
It’s hard to fault a mojito aficionado from defying the seasonal mandate at the Zig Zag, because when it comes to mojito-making, Murray’s method is a sight to behold. Cameron likes to remark that Murray puts more love into a single cocktail than most restaurants put into a whole meal, and I am convinced that he was witnessing a mojito-muddling marathon for the first time when he coined that oh-so-true aphorism.
As Morgenthaler correctly cautions, a mojito is no drink to order when your fellow tipplers are three-deep at the bar. Even the most slap-dash mojito is a time-consuming order. But making ‘Mojitos a la Murray’ elevates the procedure to high art.
Murray starts out by cutting half a lime into quarters, placing the pieces in a pint glass with half a dozen mint leaves and simple syrup. Crushed ice is added, and muddling commences. Six more mint leaves join the party, along with another dose of syrup and more ice. More muddling. Another dose of mint — this time sans syrup — and still more muddling. Then the rum, and a purposeful stir while surveying the bar. Tasting for balance, he tinkers with his creation until he achieves the ideal balance of sweet, sour, and strength; it rarely needs much to bring it to perfection. Out of his pile of mint, he chooses one more perfect sprig, dusting it with a flurry of powdered sugar before placing it jauntily in the glass, and handing the drink over to the suitably awed customer.
Both Murray and Jeffrey adhere to the unstrained school of mojito mixology: “I leave the ‘salad’ in place,” says Mr. Stenson. My muddling technique must be a bit weak; I haven’t yet mastered the fine art of extracting sufficient mint flavor without creating a pulpy mess, even when using Murray’s step-by-step directions and the prescribed copious amounts of greenery. So, as a compromise, I follow the ‘Murray Method’ right up to the end, but then strain the muddled mixture into an ice-filled cooler glass. A few small bits of mint find their way through the strainer, creating a pleasantly herb-flecked drink with plenty of punch.
Murray also dispenses with the traditional top-up of soda water; his masterful muddling provides the just the right opportunity for dilution. I like a bit of fizz, myself (as does Morgenthaler), but let your cocktail conscience be your guide on this point, as always.
1T simple syrup, or to taste
18 medium mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
2 oz silver rum
good-quality soda water (optional)
confectioners sugar (optional)
Cut the lime-half into quarters, and muddle in a 16-oz glass along with 6 medium mint leaves and 1/4 ounce (1-1/2 tsp) simple syrup. Add crushed ice to one quarter of the way up the glass. Add 6 more mint leaves and another 1/4 ounce simple syrup; muddle again. Add crushed ice to a level about 2/3 up the glass, plus remaining 6 mint leaves (no simple syrup this round); muddle yet again. Add the rum and stir until the glass begins to frost. Adjust to taste, then strain the chilled mixture into an ice-filled 12-ounce highball or cooler glass. Top up with a splash of soda water, if desired. Garnish with a sprig of mint, dusted with confectioners sugar, if desired.
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: St-Germain, the new liqueur that’s sending ripples across the cocktail scene, comes in a bottle so beautiful that it will make you forget your budget, your better judgment, and most of your morals.
The producers call their elderflower-scented concoction “vie parisienne en bouteille” and from the look of things, they’re not far off. The shape is impressively soignée, in a luxe Art Nouveau style. The labels, too, are gorgeous — even the adhesive surface sports a gentle tapestry scroll, so as to please the eye when seen through the other side of the glass. Trés elegant.
According to an impossibly precious marketing backstory, hand-picked wild elderflowers are macerated and combined with eau de vie. The result is a liqueur that balances citrus and floral notes as gracefully as a skilled waiter carries a tray of cocktails. A heavy hand with the sugar is perhaps the liqueur’s only limitation; you need a steady resolve and a miser’s touch to make a drink that captures St-Germain’s floral notes without edging into tooth-aching sweetness.
Smart folks, these Germainistes: They’ve recruited many of the cocktail world’s leading lights to wax rhapsodic about their products, both around the web and in an adorable little booklet attached to every bottle. Alas, the recipes it contains are less successful, leaning toward the cloying and bizarre. Mon dieu! Drinks featuring green-apple vodka and pineapple juice — mercifully, not together — aren’t exactly consistent with the swanky image they’re painting with the rest of the brand messaging.
Left to our own devices, we successfully used a splash and a half of St-Germain to create impromptu Champagne cocktails. Meanwhile, we considered drinks that could benefit from the liqueur’s mysterious undertones without collapsing under the sugar’s weight.
We didn’t have to go far down our roster of possibilities to encounter a combination that puts this floral mixture in a flattering light. We started with a traditional Aviation, replacing the maraschino liqueur with St-Germain. The elderflower twines well with the lemon, but you may need to gently tinker with proportions to compensate for sweeter or more acidic fruit. Lime makes a pleasant alternative, should you be so disposed.
We christened our variation Le Bourget, in honor of the once-bucolic airfield where Lindbergh landed the Spirit of St. Louis after his landmark flight; nowadays it’s a bustling commuter hub and the home of the biannual Salon International de l’Aéronautique where — this very week — French aircraft manufacturers are touting their wares to potential clients. What better moniker for a French Aviation?
2 oz gin
1/2 oz St-Germain elderflower liqueur
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
Shake well with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
In my youth, I was actually something of a photo geek: I built a darkroom in my parents’ garage, I worked for my Dad all summer between 8th and 9th grade to buy my first SLR, and I won a school-wide award for photography a year later. I was, even then, a tinkerer, a collector of gadgets and gizmos.
By all rights, you’d think an equipment geek like me would have some big, black, long-lensed monstrosity… when instead I actually tote a cute, shiny, pocket-sized snapshot-maker. I’ve looked longingly at the gorgeous shots created by those who own the real deal, all the while coaxing my poor little PowerShot into giving up decent photos.
Cameron — who hails from a photo-obsessed clan — hasn’t helped matters. He’s been egging me on to purchase a dSLR for months, reminding me of the old adage that equipment should always be better than the human behind it. I knew he was right, but I felt like I couldn’t justify the expense: I’d just upgraded my point-and-shoot last November, a purchase that set me back far more than I really wanted to spend. And ultimately, the blog’s just a hobby… it’s not like anyone cares whether the image is a little noisy, or the lens distortion gets a little distracting.
Early last week, my equipment envy reached a peak. A friend who just started blogging mentioned that he’d splashed out for some gear to help improve his online shots. I replied covetously, saying something to the effect of “I wish I could buy a dSLR, but it’s not like I have a spare grand sitting around.”
And then, two very interesting things happened.
I got home, opened the mailbox, and found a check — a completely unexpected payment for something I did on a lark more than a year ago — for $945. Not quite a grand, it’s true, but you could say that the universe had succeeded in grabbing my attention.
The next morning, I noticed a lot of inbound blog traffic from a link called “DMBLGiT: The Winners!” I clicked the tracking URL, and my jaw hit the keyboard. Holy cats: I’d tied for first place in this month’s Does My Blog Look Good in This?, the food-bloggers’ photo contest! I’d never even entered before, and I’m up there on the big screen with DPaul & Sean, and Ilva, and plenty of other talented folks whose blogs I read regularly and whose photos make me swoon. It’s so ridiculous, I still don’t really believe it. But does that stop me from celebrating? No, it most certainly does not. Celebrating is something I understand very, very well.
The rather obvious end of this little tale: I am now the proud owner of a brand-spanking new Canon 30D. At last, a real camera. Interchangeable lenses! A usable viewfinder! And best of all, as Cameron says, “It makes that Girls on Film noise!”
We took the new toy up to Napa this weekend, and both of us captured a surprising number of lovely shots, considering we hadn’t even read the manual yet. (No, I didn’t haul this behemoth out at The French Laundry. Shuh… even I have my limits!) I know it’ll take a while before I dial in the seemingly limitless new features at my disposal — no film camera was ever this confusing …or have I just gotten old? But in the meantime, if you keep an eye on my photostream, you’ll get to see me take my first baby steps back from the point-and-shoot realm.
Although it’s a mainstay of American restaurants — one might even say it’s a cliché in eateries of a certain sort — the original Caesar salad was created in Mexico. The classic combination of romaine lettuce, croutons, Parmesan cheese, and a garlic-laden, egg-emulsified dressing has remained popular since its invention in the 1920s, enduring more than its share of variations throughout the years.
Such are the indignities that this venerable ensalada has suffered that pretty much any creamy, romaine-based salad can be called a Caesar nowadays. On the other end of the spectrum, there are purists who hold that an anchovy-free Caesar isn’t a Caesar at all (although Caesar himself used Worcestershire sauce, no little fishies at all). Adding some bacon or grilled chicken makes a Caesar suitable for a light lunch or simple supper… and that’s just the beginning of all the ways you can tinker with this highly adaptable recipe.
No doubt that sort of flexibility was what Katie at Other People’s Food had in mind when she selected Caesar salad for this month’s ‘Hay, Hay It’s Donna Day’ celebration. She even mentions Caesar wraps and Caesar pizzas — Ay, Dios mío, what would Señor Cardini make of that?
I set to thinking about a way to honor the salad’s historical birthplace, without going too far over into caricature — no multicolored tortilla confetti or salsa-spiked dressing, please. I played around with the basic method, adding a few south-of-the-border notes: A little chile, some avocado cubes, and a few sliced radishes in place of the croutons’ crunch.
This recipe yields a fair bit of dressing — certainly more than we ever need for just the two of us. It keeps for at least a week in the fridge, and if you prep a whole head of romaine on the night you make the dressing, the remaining lettuce will keep as long, provided you treat it right.
Here’s a trick we picked up from Alton Brown: Cut (or better yet, tear) the romaine into bite-sized pieces. Rinse and briefly soak the lettuce pieces in cold water in a salad spinner, then lift up the basket and dump out the water. Replace the basket and spin the lettuce in the usual fashion. Put half of the spun lettuce in the salad bowl, and set aside. Roll out a length of paper towels on the countertop, and sprinkle the lettuce along its length, keeping a single layer as much as possible. When you’ve laid out all the lettuce, roll up the paper towels loosely, and slide the roll into a plastic produce bag. Put the bag gently into your crisper drawer, but do not close the bag.
It’s a pretty neat trick: The paper towel wicks moisture away from the lettuce, but keeps the bag relatively humid. I’m not saying the romaine will be as good as new a week later, but it sure beats the pants off of those overpriced, half-wilted “salad in a bag” thingies.
4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
1/2 fresh jalapeno pepper
1/4 tsp. anchovy paste, or a few dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup mild olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 head romaine lettuce
6 to 8 radishes
2 oz Dry Jack (or other hard cheese, such as Parmesan)
1 small, ripe avocado
Roast the garlic and chile in a small, dry skillet, turning frequently until soft and blistered. Cool briefly, then peel the garlic, and roughly chop both the chile and garlic. (Split and seed the chile before chopping, if you prefer a milder heat.) Place the chopped garlic and chiles in the mini-bowl of a food processor with the anchovy paste (or Worcestershire), and process until smooth, adding as much of the oil as needed to form a paste. Add the lemon juice and the egg yolk to the paste, and process briefly to combine. Then slowly add the remaining oil, with the processor running, until combined. Be careful not to overprocess, or you’ll get mayonnaise. Taste, and season with salt and freshly-ground black pepper.
(Alternately, you can crush the solids with a mortar and pestle and then whisk with the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl, or use an immersion blender. Either way, be sure to follow the same steps; don’t just dump everything in together or you’ll end up with a broken mess.)
Tear or cut the romaine into bite-sized pieces; wash and dry. Slice the radishes into thin rounds, discarding the stem and end pieces. Shave the cheese with a vegetable peeler into wide, thin strips. Halve the avocado, and remove the pit. With the skin on, score the avocado flesh at 1/2-inch intervals in both directions, all the way down to the skin. With a soup spoon, scoop the avocado flesh from the skin; it should separate into neat cubes.
In a large serving bowl, toss the lettuce with a few tablespoons of dressing, until just coated. Toss in the radishes, half the avocado cubes, and half the cheese. Add more dressing if needed, but be careful not to overdress. Serve on chilled salad plates, garnished with the remaining avocado and cheese.
As you’ve probably noticed, I’m a sucker for any drink made with green Chartreuse. But I hadn’t found many cocktails that used the yellow version to good effect until Murray made me an Amber Dream during our most recent visit. This one’s a definite keeper; the gin and the vermouth counter the liqueur’s abundant sweetness.
As I sipped my Amber Dream, our friend Jason appeared beside me, grinning at his cleverness in having tracked us down. It dawned on me almost immediately that Jason’s wife is named Amber. Strange coincidence, no?
Jason and Amber welcomed their first baby Tuesday night, so now the drink is doubly apt: With little Cooper’s arrival, I’d guess there won’t be a lot of dreaming for Amber — or Zig Zag cocktails for Jason — for a while.
A number of recipes call for the drink to be garnished with a flamed orange peel, but just as many leave the cocktail ungarnished. And there seems to be some difference of opinion regarding the bitters, whether aromatic or orange are preferred. (If you prefer a garnish-free version, the orange bitters seem like a smarter accent, in order to keep at least some of the citrus tones in place.) Some recipes call explicitly for French sweet vermouth, and still others favor an Old Fashioned glass — and rocks — to the standard v-stem/up configuration.
Needless to say, there’s plenty of room here for tinkering. Try out a couple of variations, and raise a toast to the littlest foodie in our circle and his proud parents.
1-1/2 oz dry gin
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
1/4 oz yellow Chartreuse
1 dash orange or aromatic bitters
Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a flamed orange peel, if desired.
I’ve confessed, repeatedly, to my tinkering tendencies. I never met a recipe that I couldn’t futz into an unrecognizable state. Now, it seems, my little problem is taking on a life of its own: I can’t even drink nice cocktails at perfectly respectable establishments without wondering just what might help make them a wee bit better.
This whole sorry tale started out a few months ago with a dinner at Perbacco, SF’s ultra-popular downtown ristorante. True to their Italian niche, the Perbacco bar menu features a number of cocktails that feel like a hip bartender’s fantasy of la dolce vita: a bit of Carpano Antica here, a splash of Prosecco there, a titch of amaro, and plenty of sassy citrus for everyone! The drink that caught my eye on our first visit — and held my fickle gaze on a return trip — is a pretty little thing called the Rosmarino: Grey Goose vodka, lemon juice, rosemary simple syrup, and Clear Creek apple brandy; shaken, up, rosemary garnish. As delicious as it was, the apple flavor seemed a little misplaced, and the rosemary notes a tad thin (despite the not-terribly appetizing bits of muddled herbage floating around).
Not long after this, I tasted another citrusy drink on the menu at Bemelmans Bar on our NYC trip. Christened La Cinque (that’s “the five” in Italian for you non-jetsetters), the menu listed pear vodka, moscato d’Asti, fresh lime, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters. Surely, it was a lovely combination, although the syrup combined with the sweet moscato to take the sugar hit right over the top.
I’d made a batch of rosemary syrup a couple weeks back — steeping a few sprigs of fresh rosemary in a warm batch of 1:1 simple syrup — in an effort to figure out precisely what was needed to fine-tune the Rosmarino to my liking. But time got away from me, and the jar of syrup ended up in the freezer. So when the time came to try to replicate La Cinque at home, I decided to combine these two Italian-inspired recipes into a single cocktail. It took a few tries to get the balance right; you’ll want to tinker with the syrup levels depending on the dryness of your bubbly. Using a bone-dry California sparkler, we needed the full 1/2 ounce; if you opt for a Prosecco or other off-dry option, you’ll likely need the lesser amount… unless you like your drinks on the sweet side.
The Rosemary Five
– adapted from La Cinque, Bemelmans Bar (NYC) and Rosmarino, Perbacco (SF)
1 oz. pear vodka or pear eau de vie (such as Absolut Pears or Clear Creek Williams Pear)
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
1/4 to 1/2 oz. rosemary simple syrup
3 dashes Angostura bitters
dry sparkling wine
Shake the vodka with the lime juice and syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a 6-ounce cocktail glass, and top with sparkling wine, to fill. Garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary.
A gentle reminder from your host and hostess: You’ve now just over a week to break out the bubbly and show us your best Champagne cocktails for MxMo14. In the meantime, we’ll be posting a few other sparklies we’ve collected over the last couple of months… all in the name of “research”, dontcha know?
Every cook has those recipes that she considers so perfect that she won’t even entertain the idea of trying another variation. In our house, for example, there is no meatloaf but our meatloaf. I’m so set in my ways that not only will I not try new meatloaf recipes, I rarely even order meatloaf at restaurants.
So when, during a long-overdue freezer cleanout, Mom and I discovered a stash of bananas, and then another stash, we knew it was time for another of those “don’t bother with another recipe” recipes: Banana bread.
Now, with all modesty, I’m not the only one who loves this stuff. It’s a recipe so wonderful that it was printed — albeit with some non-fatal editorial alterations — by Cooking Light many years ago, and apparently remains a reader favorite. (I cringed in anticipation when I clicked on the reader comments link, and was amazed to see that everyone likes this recipe as much as we do. Whew!)
Here’s my introduction from the original issue:
My mom, Toni, has been making this banana bread for what seems like forever. We’re nuts about all kinds of bread, and this is a family favorite — even the dog loves it. While it may seem odd not to add spices, the pure banana flavor is what makes it so delicious.
You can find the tinkered-with version on Cooking Light’s site, but here’s the original, which isn’t really much higher in fat:
Toni’s Banana Bread
1-3/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1-1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 medium super-ripe bananas (about 1 cup)
scant 2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F, and butter an 8×4 loaf pan (or two 7×3 pans for tea-size loaves).
Whisk dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl, and set aside.
Put the remaining ingredients (except optional nuts) in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour the banana puree over the dry ingredients, and fold lightly — adding nuts, if using – with a rubber spatula, just until combined; do not overmix.
Pour batter into the buttered loaf pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, but do not overbake. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
Tami of Running with Tweezers posted a gorgeous roasted eggplant soup recipe in honor of her mother, and invited her blog-buddies to post about their favorite soups. With a head of cauliflower in the fridge, a brisk chill in the air, and my own parents’ anniversary dinner to cook, I knew exactly which soup to share.
I first made a variation on this soup last winter as one of the last few Soup of the Fortnight installments. But it bears repeating, because although it’s based on an Epicurious recipe, you know I can’t make anything without a little (or a lot) of tinkering. Plus, it’s such a luxurious soup, and it goes so well with a wide variety of sandwiches and salads to make a satisfying supper — you might never guess how easy it is to make simply by tasting it.
Here’s my adapted recipe, perfect for a chilly evening:
Blue Cheese Cauliflower Soup
1 (1-pound) head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/4 cup butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup milk, or more as needed
3 ounces Gorgonzola (or other mild blue cheese), crumbled
Ground white pepper, to taste
In a medium pot of boiling water, blanch 1 cup of the nicest-looking cauliflower florets until just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water, and set aside.
In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and remaining cauliflower. Cover the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are tender, not brown — about 8 minutes.
Add flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chicken broth and 1 cup of milk, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover partially. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and soup thickens — about 20 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. (If using a traditional blender, puree in two batches.) Thin with additional milk, if desired. Gradually add the cheese, stirring until melted. Season with salt and white pepper, to taste.
Ladle soup into bowl, and garnish with the reserved cauliflower. Serves 4.