Thursday, March 31, 2011

Best Banana Bread Recipe

Leanne's banana bread is the best ever!

I have never been a huge fan of banana bread. I've always had a "take it or leave it" attitude.  Until one of my former college roomies brought me some of her banana bread.  Talk about yummy!  It really was one of those treats you can't stop eating.   Someone asked me recently why this recipe is so good.  You know, I am not sure why.  I always dissect every recipe I get.  In fact, it's really hard for me to follow a recipe just as it is.  I usually want to add this or that.  Which is not always a good idea.  Sometimes, it turns out "fabuloso" and other times...not so much! 

Back to the banana bread.  When I dissected Leanne's recipe, it didn't seem that different from the rest.  I think the buttermilk makes it moist.  It does call for a whole lot of butter in the recipe instead of oil. Everything is better with butter, right?  I guess this is my fancy analysis- butter equals better.  Also, the banana flavor is not too intense.  This recipe is just the right parts "sweet bread" and "banana" if that makes sense.  So, I hope you enjoyed the banana bread break down (say that 5 times really fast).  If not, you will certainly enjoy the bread!

Leanne's Banana Bread
(makes two loaves)

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
4 ripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons buttermilk
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Beat eggs and add to sugar mixture.  Add bananas, vanilla and buttermilk.  Sift flour, baking soda and salt.  Add to the banana mixture and mix until fllour has been incoporated.  Pour into two greased and floured 9X5X3 inch loaf pans.  Bake for 45 minutes or until the bread pulls away from the sides of the pan.  Cool and remove from pan.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spinach and Pancetta Quiche

Happy first week of spring, dear readers!  Sunday was actually the first day of spring and I so wanted to post on one of my favorite days of the year, but alas, with the slightly messy blog remodel I am doing, I ran out of time.  I have lots of ideas brewing in my mind but never enough time to accomplish them all.

By the way, the redesign is still a work in progress, so I would love any comments or feedback, if you can conjure up a little courage to tell me what you think, especially since you are the ones who have to look at it!

Early last week spring came marching through town with rows and rows of battling rain but now, the days are just beautiful...the gentle wind, the warm is so beautiful I never want to go inside. These are the kind of days you wish you could capture in a bottle and store away for August when the sweltering heat makes it difficult to remember there is such a thing as spring.

Spring fever has definitely come upon me.  I can feel it coursing through my veins.  I know this because I am suffering from all the usual side effects that one might expect from such an illness.  I find myself perusing gardening magazines dreaming of vegetables and flowers way beyond my gardening ability, cleaning out closets (or at least thinking about doing it while I peruse my magazines), laying in the grass for no apparent reason (which is fine in your own backyard but slightly weird on the side of the road), and of course, cooking, cooking and cooking.  Any change in the season brings me back to the kitchen.  Honestly, I am always ready for a little change, a side effect from all the constant moving I did as a child, I suppose. 

Since I am cooking up spring recipes, I will share a few.  This weekend I made the most delicious quiche.  Yes, really.  You can still make quiche in the new millineum.  Now, fritata is our egg dish of choice and way more modern, but a really good quiche is still something to be savored.  So break out those eggs and try it again.  I used a prepared pie crust.  Mrs. Smith's makes a delicious deep-dish pie crust that makes the recipe so much easier than preparing your own.  You can even do a "Walls family" version with spinach only on one side!  Ha! I really try to make them eat their veggies but spinach is not always on the top of the list.  However, the Mr. and I love it!  So with or without, that is the question...

Spinach & Pancetta Quiche

1/2 bag fresh spinach
garlic flavored olive oil for sauteing

1/2 pound sliced pancetta
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup half n half
t teaspoons dijon mustard
1 cup swiss cheese, shredded
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1 deep-dish prepared pie crust (I like Mrs. Smith's.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Stack the sliced pancetta on a cutting board and cut into small cubes.  Separate the cubes into individual pieces.  Place a saute pan over medium heat and cook the pancetta until crispy and brown.  Remove and drain on paper towel.  In the same saute pan, add a splash of garlic infused olive oil and the fresh, rough chopped spinach.  Cook until the spinach is just wilted about 3-4 minutes.  Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, half and half and mustard until smooth.  Add salt and pepper.    Fold in the swiss cheese and parmesan cheese.  Finally swirl in the pancetta and spinach and pour into a deep dish prepared pie crust.  Bake in the oven at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until just set.  Cool at least 10 minutes before cutting.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Yellow Butter Cake Recipe

Baby girl with baby goat!

It's Pioneer week on Growing Gourmets!  I love, love, love the Little House series.  Have I told you that before?  Really, I appreciate anything that has to do with the amazing men and women who survived the American frontier by hard work, perseverance and cooperation.  Their ability to survive speaks to something inside all of us.  The question of whether, if we were in their place, we would be able to create something out of almost nothing and make a life for ourselves and our family.

I am reminded of this each time I plant tomatoes or basil or something small in our garden.  We don't really rely on it for sustenance, it's just a supplement to the many trips to the grocery store.  We have so much prosperity,it is good to be reminded of those who don't, both in the past and present.  It is inspiring to read stories of families who not only survived, but thrived, enjoying the goodness of hard work, fellowship and simplicity.

On a sweeter note, an anonymous reader requested the delicious yellow butter cake recipe I used for the baby girl's birthday cake.  Trust me, over the years I have tried so many different yellow cake recipes it would make your head spin.  I know, I know, there are perfectly good box mixes out there, but I want homemade!  All the cakes I tried in the past came out too dense; more similar to a pound cake than a light, fluffy birthday cake.  This recipe seems to do the trick for me.  I actually doubled it for the party to make three tiers but one recipe will get you two 9 inch rounds. 

Now, this cake was made in about an hour and a half, quite "fast and furious" because I was out of time.  So I went with the "home-baked" pioneer theme and kept it super simple.  I wanted to make an apricot filling between the layers, but baby girl wanted plain. (sigh)   I added almond flavoring to the batter which really enhanced the taste  It wasn't overwhelming, just a subtle addition to add more flavor.  My oldest said it was the best cake ever!  Which is always nice to hear, even if the compliments come when they are feasting on large amounts of sugar.

Yellow Butter Cake
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoons almond extract
3 1/4 cups cake flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups milk

In a bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy and pale yellow, 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs, then yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts.

In another bowl, sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir about a third of the flour mixture into butter mixture. Stir in half the milk just until blended. Stir in another third of the flour mixture, then remaining milk, followed by remaining flour. Scrape batter equally into two buttered and floured 9-inch round cake pans and spread level.  Bake in a 350° oven until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Don't over bake.  Cool on racks in pans for 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto racks and remove pans. Cool completely before frosting.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A "Little House on the Prairie" Pioneer Girl Party

Our "prairie girl" on her 9th birthday.

Our whole family loves the "Little House on the Prairie" books, so for our daughter's 9th birthday, we hosted a "Pioneer Girl" party.  The girls had a great time riding horses, milking a cow and feeding baby animals just like real pioneer girls.

First, I sent out handmade invitations, prairie-style, with paper wildflowers and calico fabric.  When the girls untied the ribbon, they found the invitation tucked inside.

All the girls lined up at the milking station.  Plenty of smiles because there was a lot of mooing going on in the background.

We chose a wonderful location for the party.  The Oil Ranch in Hockley, Texas has plenty of fun activities, we even went on a hayride out to the cow pasture to feed the cows.  It's a good thing they don't have teeth in the front but they do have long, wet, scratchy tongues.

I made prairie bonnets in all different colors and styles of calico fabric for the girls to take home as party favors.

I attached them to the table with twine and clothespins...they looked so pretty blowing in the breeze.

After a full day, the girls were hungry and just like Mary and Laura who carried their lunch to school in pails, the girls each had their own lunch pail full of healthy snacks including a sandwich, apple, carrots, pretzels, and homemade muffins.

I set bags of old-fashioned hard candy on the table in root beer and horhound flavors just like the pioneer girls would have found in the general store.

Of course, we had to finish off the party with an old-fashoned home baked cake decorated with wildflowers.  Best butter cake recipe ever!

I think our prairie girl had an amazing time and will treasure memories of a day filled with friends, family, horses, cows and baby animals.  It doesn't get any better than this.