Banana-Cardamom Bread

Putting banana and cardamom in the same dish is like putting Robert Plant and Alison Krauss in the same song -- despite hailing from different worlds, when the two are brought together they create a surprising union that is steeped with undeniable chemistry and inimitable harmony. Magical, and strangely addictive. The banana-cardamom duet has already debuted in my hot cereal routine, so here's to a quickbread encore. 

Banana bread has a habit of welcoming the "warm spice" family -- cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, chai, etc. -- into its battery folds. All add delicious depth, but, in my opinion, cardamom an inexplicable edge over the rest. Perhaps it's the way it complements the banana's ripe sweetness with its gingery tang, creating chemistry with contrast. Or the way it laces an unexpected, exotic melody throughout the loaf -- delicate, yet pungent. But this recipe won't be off my turntable anytime soon, and you can bet banana and cardamom aren't done creating hits. 

[Makes 2 small loaves]

1 to 1 1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (about 3) 
2 eggs, lightly beaten 
1/2 cup brown sugar 
Scant 1/4 cup honey 
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
1 tsp vanilla extract 
 1/4 cup plain yogurt 
1 cup all-purpose flour 
1 cup whole wheat flour 
1/2 tsp kosher salt 
 1 tsp baking powder 
1/2 tsp baking soda 
2 1/2 tsp ground cardamom 
 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Old-fashioned oats, for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two loaf pans with olive oil.

2. Place the bananas in a glass bowl, mash a bit, and place in the preheating oven for 5 to 10 minutes to allow them to heat up and release their liquid. Remove from oven and gently finish mashing the bananas with a fork.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cardamom, and cinnamon. Set aside.

4. In another large bowl crack two eggs, beat lightly, then add brown sugar, honey, olive oil, vanilla, and yogurt. Whisk until mixture is smooth.

5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and fold in bananas. Mix until well-combined.

6. With a spatula, scrape the batter into the two greased loaf pans. Sprinkle tops with old-fashioned oats.

7. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and let loaves rest in their pans for 5 to 10 minutes. Use a knife or spatula to loosen all four sides, then flip and tap the bottom to release the bread. Move loaves to a rack to cool completely before serving.


Cilantro-Jalapeno Chicken Salad

Chicken salad has this summery stigma about it. It conjures images of picnic blankets and block parties. Big, communal bowls of it. Sitting between the watermelon and the coleslaw. Ready to stuff between two slices of crusty bread. Or atop a bed of greens. Or straight to mouth via mayo-laced fingers. It's a dish that has consistently been a thrifty way to re-appropriate meat; bulk it up with choice fixings and wrap it all in a creamy binder (especially useful in hiding dry, flavorless protein.)

Chicken breasts are notoriously boring, so I poached mine in white wine first to get them plump and inebriated with flavor. I lean toward a roughly shredded style of chicken salad -- as opposed to finely minced or perfectly diced -- and the drunken breasts practically shredded themselves as prodded them with two forks. For the fixings I channeled the Southwest with a loud cast of cilantro, lime and jalapeno. Yogurt spiked with Dijon, cumin and a dash of cayenne stood in for the traditional mayo, rendering the salad bright and tangy with a kiss of heat that beckons for summer.


3 large chicken breasts
white wine (or another poaching liquid)
1 jalapeƱo pepper, seeded and diced 
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup yellow onion, finely diced
1 lime, juiced
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp cumin
dash cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
1/4 cup radishes, finely diced (optional)

1. Season chicken with salt and pepper and place in a medium pot. Cover by about an inch with white wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover partially and cook at a simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let chicken sit in the wine for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove to a place and shred with a fork.

2. In a small bowl combine yogurt, Dijon, cumin, lime juice, a dash cayenne pepper, salt and freshly cracked black pepper. When chicken is cool, fold into yogurt mixture and add onion, jalapeno, fresh cilantro (and radishes, if using). Taste and adjust flavors and serve at room temperature or cold. (Best if you let it sit in the fridge for a few hours to let the flavors meld).


Grilled Baby Potatoes with Mint, Arugula and Lemon-Pepper Vinaigrette


Lemon zest and white pepper bring zing to grilled spuds, with fresh mint adding a cool herbal flavor. 
A balanced and bright side dish for summer.

1 3/4 lb mixed baby potatoes
1/4 cup mint, chopped 
1 cup arugula, roughly chopped 
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice 
4 Tbsp olive oil 
1 tsp lemon zest 
1 tsp white pepper 
salt and pepper 
grated fontina cheese 

1.  Wash and scrub 1 3/4 lb mixed baby potatoes. Cover potatoes by 1 inch in water in a medium pot; add salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until potatoes are fork tender -- about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain potatoes and allow to cool slightly.

2. Wash mint and arugula, pat dry between paper towels, then chop. In a small bowl combine 4 tablespoons olive oil, 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon white pepper and 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Adjust to taste.

4. Heat grill or grill pan over high heat. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, half them (quarter larger spuds), and toss in a medium bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread onto hot grill in an even layer and cook, turning occasionally, until grill marks appear on all sides. Return potatoes to bowl and drizzle with half of the dressing, 1/4 cup fresh mint and 1 cup roughly chopped arugula. Toss gently to combine and add more dressing as necessary. Garnish with freshly grated fontina and serve warm or at room temperature.


An Heirloom Vinegar Cake

Let me be clear: I'm not a fan of cake. Not on a birthday, not at a wedding, not frosted, especially not with sprinkles. I was the kid who would request "ice cream, hold the cake" at birthday parties, and I certainly never got swept up in the whole cupcake craze. BUT, there is one cake that I've been known to down by the forkful, despite my cake-hating claims -- that being my grandma's chocolate vinegar cake. Tradition holds her to making one every Fourth of July when she visits us at our lake house, and it never survives the day. One year my brother and I annihilated the entire tin when we were supposed to be cleaning dishes before dessert. So now she brings two. 

I'll admit there is something odd-sounding about a dessert with vinegar in its name, but it is that single ingredient that upholds the science of its baking. Fundamentally, the recipe includes the essentials for a classic chocolate cake: butter, sugar, cocoa, flour, vanilla, water, salt, baking powder, and a single egg... but then it introduces a suspicious ingredient -- the secret weapon -- distilled white vinegar. It is not for flavor, but for its reactive nature that vinegar is involved. The exchange between the vinegar and baking powder makes for a cake that is exceptionally airy and moist compared to others. (It's a genius baking technique that was adopted during the Great Depression-era when ingredients like milk, butter and eggs were scarce and expensive). It has since become a timeless heirloom recipe. Nana cloaks hers in a mocha frosting -- simply powdered sugar, cocoa, and brewed (instant) coffee -- I used regular drip-brewed coffee, and stirred in additional fresh grounds to boost the flavor. It's enough to make even the cake-opposed among us swoon. 


3/4 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups water
2 scant Tbsp vinegar


1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup brewed coffee
ground coffee, to taste 

1. Preheat oven to 350 dg F. In a medium mixing bowl, beat together butter, sugar and 1 egg. In another bowl combine flour, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt. Stir with a fork to combine. Slowly add dry ingredients to the sugar mixture and then add water, vanilla and vinegar. Mix until well-combined. 

2. Grease a 9"x13" baking tin and spread batter into an even layer. Bake for 20-30 minutes until toothpick emerges clean. 

3. Meanwhile, combine powdered sugar, softened butter, cocoa, and brewed coffee (plus more fresh grounds if you want to boost the flavor. Adjust to desired taste and consistency. (Add more sugar if too wet, more coffee if too dry, etc.)

4. Allow cake to cool completely before frosting. 


Rye-Cornmeal Soda Bread

I've never been a baker, but I've been on a bread jag lately. There's something so fulfilling about homemade loaves -- the kneading, the experimenting with various flours, seeds, and grains, and especially the smell. When I don't have hours to spend on yeast-risen dough, I turn to the soda-based lot. Soda bread recipes are notoriously simple and nearly effortless -- plus they're in and out of the oven in less than an hour, so you can be eating a warm slice before your yeast dough has even finished its first rise... This is the second version I've made of Heidi Swanson's Rye Soda Bread from Super Natural Every Day. Rye flour has such a delicious depth, and in my first adaptation I paired it with quinoa flour and a heavy dose of caraway seeds. Here cornmeal joins the dry ingredients and a combo of regular and almond milk stand in for the typical buttermilk. Flour-dusted and caraway-flecked, the hot-crossed round came out imperfectly rustic and perfectly crusty. Like the love-child of dense Irish soda bread and sweet, delicate cornbread. It is a lovely platform for a shmear of butter (or soft Delice de Bourgogne cheese).

[Adapted from Super Natural Every Day]

2 1/3 cups rye flour
1/2 cups quinoa flour
1/2 cup cornmeal 
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for kneading and dusting
1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup regular milk
1 cup almond milk
 olive oil, for brushing
caraway seeds, for sprinkling

1. Heat the oven to 400 dg F with the rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat a medium cast iron skillet.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the flours, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the milk. Stir together with a wooden spoon or a spatula just until the dough comes together in a ball.

3. Turn out onto a lightly floured counter top and knead for just about 30 seconds. The dough should be a cohesive ball, but there will still be dry spots. Try to get rid of the cracks.

4. Remove the cast iron skillet from the oven, sprinkle lightly with flour and place the ball of dough on top. Brush olive oil over the top and sides of the dough and then sprinkle generously with flour and caraway seeds. Without slicing all the way through the ball, cut two deep slashes across the top of the dough to form an "x".

5. Bake for about 30 minutes and then move the rack and the bread up a level in the oven to bake for another 20 minutes. The bread is done when the dough looks baked thoroughly and is nice and crusty. It will be heavy, but should sound hollow when you knock the bottom.


Spinach Frittata with Caramelized Onions

A crown of caramelized onions is all it takes to elevate a frittata from pauper to prince. This eggy creation is simply an amalgam of forlorn contents of my fridge (read: humble and endlessly adaptable), but what really makes it shine is the sweet, slightly charred onions that are welded to its surface. Caramelized slowly, then scattered across the top right before the eggs are set, the golden strands crisp up deliciously in the oven and bring a deep, seductive flavor to the dish.

[Makes: 2 servings]

1 large sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced
olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2 to 3 cups baby spinach
1/2 cup small white beans
4 large eggs
A splash of buttermilk
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup curly parsley, chopped
1 tomato, sliced
1/4 cup roasted pepitas

1. Peel and half a large sweet onion. Cut across the grain into thin slices. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add onions and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low or low (depending on burner strength), and sprinkle onions with a little salt. Continue cooking, allowing onions to slightly stick to the bottom of the pan between each stir, for 20 to 30 more minutes (or up to an hour) until onions are browned and caramelized.

2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 dgF. Crack 4 large eggs into a bowl and whisk with a splash or two of buttermilk. Stir in about a 1/4 cup chopped curly parsley, and season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

3. Wash 2 to 3 cups baby spinach and mince 1 garlic clove. Heat a few tablespoons olive oil in a medium cast iron or ovenproof skillet over medium. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add spinach and cook until nearly wilted. I had some baby white beans in the fridge so I added about 1/2 cup of those to the sauteing spinach as well.

4. Pour the eggs over the spinach and beans and top with tomato slices. Cook for about 5 to 7 minutes and before the eggs are fully set, top with caramelized onions and roasted pepitas. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook for another 5 minutes until eggs are cooked through and top is slightly browned.