Wednesday, May 26, 2010

They inevitably linger

I don't know about you, but this seems to happen a lot in our house:

We begin with the best of intentions. We want more fresh fruit on hand, to encourage healthy snacking. Husband wants bananas available for necessary post-run fuel. They're good for smoothies. So we buy five or six of them, then they inevitably linger, uneaten on the counter top, turning from lovely green-tinged yellow to gently speckled brown to black in the time it took me to write this sentence.

Then I make matters worse by getting up on my Tasteful Decor Horse, placing the bananas in a pretty frosted yellow glass dish on the shelf above the stove. Out of Husband's line of sight. And we all know that when something is out of Husband's sight, it is out of Husband's mind. Unless that something is Howard Stern. Or Mr. Met. Or greasy Chinese food from Rockland County, New York.

This rotten parade of banana flesh has been therefore enriching our compost pile. I often think that I should bake something (muffins, dog treats) with the darkening fruit, but I always end up missing the window as the bananas go from perfect-for-baked-goods to liquefied before I can get out the mixer.

Sunday night, though, I was victorious.

While mentally preparing for the series finale of "Lost," I happened to glance at the bananas, which I had moved from their stylish perch atop the stove back to their utilitarian counter top real estate. I was really tired, and I think I was mid-sentence talking about how tired I was, but I got up, walked across the room, grasped the bananas and started peeling them. I was determined to have freshly-baked banana bread -- made from not-wasted bananas -- in my hand before I learned if Jack had the ability to kill the Man in Black.

I can't help but think that if the Smoke Monster had some of this banana bread, studded with toasted pecans and flakes of sweetened coconut, maybe he wouldn't have been so cranky.


Adapted from More From Magnolia, by Allysa Torey

Baked in a tube pan, this banana bread can also pass for cake, especially if served with a little ice cream or homemade whip cream. Personally, though, I like it sliced in thin pieces, toasted and spread with salted butter. The breakfast of champions.

ALSO: This bread is even better with chocolate. So if you're feeling it, add in some (8 oz. or so) chips or chunks of your favorite chocolate when you stir in the coconut and pecans.

3 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking soda
3/4 t. cinnamon
3/4 t. kosher salt
3/4 c. canola or vegetable oil
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature, well beaten
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. mashed ripe bananas (about 4 bananas)
3/4 c. sour cream
1 1/2 c. pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
3/4 c. sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the chopped pecans on a baking sheet and bake until toasty brown, 7-8 minutes (be careful not to burn them). Remove from the oven and let cool. Keep the oven at 350.

Grease and lightly flour a 10-inch tube pan.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the oil and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat well. Add the bananas and sour cream, and mix well. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in the pecans and coconut.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 60-70 minutes, being sure to check after 60 minutes to ensure that it's not over-baked. (A skewer inserted into the center of the bread should come out with moist crumbs attached.) Let cool in the pan for at least 1 hour before removing from the pan and serving.

Makes one 10-inch cake/bread.


Previously, on A Stove With A House Around It:

One year ago: Christopsomos
Two years ago: Indian tacos, breakfast-style

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Some type of taco/taquito bender

As I noted last time, you can't just have guacamole for dinner.

I mean, you could. But what fun would that be? Guacamole is a gateway concoction, an excuse, if you will, to consume any manner of complementary Mexican treats. Mexican treats like tacos.

I've been on some type of taco/taquito bender of late. I blame a trip that Husband and I took to Chicago in March, during which time we ate a magnificent meal at Rick Bayless's perfect and delicious Frontera Grill. Rick's taquitos de pollo ahumado were simply bewitching and I still think about them a little each day. The ingredients are simple (smoked chicken, black beans, poblano chiles, homemade sour cream, salsa verde, anejo cheese, guacamole) but Rick is an alchemist, I swear: he somehow transforms the simplest foodstuffs into creations that, well, are still on your mind months later. Remember this alchemy, for in a paragraph or two I'm going to bring it up again.

Back home from Chicago, I began seeking a local taquito that could scratch my Frontera itch. I remembered Momocho, a Cleveland restaurant known for its "mod mex" cuisine that had been on my to-try list for some number of years. A random night a few weeks ago I decided I could wait no longer. Husband looked at the menu online and I was half-way out the front door as soon as he mumbled the word "taquito." Between chef Eric Williams's goat cheese guacamole (holy hell) and the Mexican fighting masks leering down at my empanada from the restaurant's dimly-lit walls, I knew I had found a new favorite place to eat. And the taquitos, lord, the taquitos. I had the tinga (16-spice grilled chicken) and Husband had the machaca (coffee- and ancho-braised brisket). It is embarrassing, but as I am typing this I am drooling a little bit, Pavlov-style. I know: classy.

So if I can't get to Frontera Grill, I can get to Momocho. And if I can't get to Momocho, I can get to my kitchen. Because thanks to the glory that is the Rick Bayless cookbook empire, his Authentic Mexican includes a simple recipe for crispy tacos that are easily whipped up, even on a weeknight, to sate the most voracious of taco and/or taquito appetites.

Remember what I said about alchemy? The filling for these tacos is nothing more than shredded chicken, salt and a puree of roasted tomato, red onion and garlic that has been cooked and thickened in a cast-iron skillet. And yet, it is amazingly delicious and complex, and completely belies its humble component ingredients. Which is to say: the chicken filling for these tacos has no right or reason to be as tasty as it is, but it is, nevertheless, completely beguiling. No wonder Mr. Bayless is doing so well for himself.

And no wonder I've been eating so well.


Adapted from Authentic Mexican, by Rick Bayless

I've made these tacos with flour and with corn tortillas, and I must say I prefer the corn. That said, if you only have flour tortillas on hand, go for it. The filling is so good it doesn't matter what you wrap it in, short of a piece of aluminum foil or a Sham-wow. I serve the tacos with no small measure of guacamole and a sprinkling of feta cheese (I can't find queso anejo or queso fresco around here), though Rick also suggests serving them on a bed of romaine leaves with sliced radishes and thinned sour cream.

Note also that the chicken filling can be made a day in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Finally, Rick fries his assembled chicken tacos, but I choose to bake them. They get just as crispy and are a little less greasy.

1 ripe, large tomato
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 t. kosher salt, divided
1/2 t. freshly-cracked black pepper
2 T. + 1 T. + 1/4 c. vegetable oil, divided
1/2 a medium red onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
12 corn tortillas
About 1 1/2 c. guacamole
1/4 c. crumbled feta cheese (or queso anejo or queso fresco, if you can find it)
1/2 c. sour cream thinned with 2 T. milk (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place a piece of aluminum foil in a cast-iron skillet (or other large skillet). Over medium heat, place the whole tomato on the foil and roast it, turning often, until the skin is blackened. Remove the tomato from the foil and place on a plate to cool enough to handle it. Peel the tomato, then core and roughly chop it. Set aside.

Season the chicken breasts on both sides with 1/2 t. of the kosher salt and the black pepper. Heat the same cast-iron skillet (or other large skillet) over medium-high heat. Place 2 T. of the vegetable oil into the skillet and then add the chicken breasts. Cook about 6 minutes per side, until the chicken breasts register 161 degrees Fahrenheit on a probe thermometer. Remove the chicken to a plate and allow it to cool enough to handle it. Shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces.

Place the chopped roasted tomato, red onion and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture is completely smooth. Heat 1 T. of the vegetable oil in the same cast-iron skillet (or other large skillet) that you used to roast the tomato and cook the chicken. Add the tomato puree to the pan and stir constantly until it is thick and reduced, about 4 minutes.

Stir the shredded chicken into the thickened tomato mixture. Remove from heat and season with the remaining 1/2 t. kosher salt.

Heat the remaining 1/4 c. of the vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium heat. When hot, quick-fry the tortillas one at a time to soften them, 2-3 seconds per side. Drain well on paper towels.

Immediately assemble the tacos by placing about 2 T. of the chicken mixture across each tortilla. Roll up the tortillas and place on a baking sheet, seam side down. Bake the tacos for about 10 minutes, or until crispy.

Serve with guacamole, crumbled feta and thinned sour cream (if desired). I also suggest serving with Luta's margaritas.

Makes 12 tacos.


Previously, on A Stove With A House Around It:

One year ago: granola
Two years ago: chocolate crinkles

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Make guacamole.

"Hello Mother."

"Hello. How are you today? What do you need?"

[To be fair, I don't always necessarily need something from Mom when I call her. But mostly I do.]

"I need to know what you put into your avocado."

"What I put in my avocado? What the hell does that mean?"

"Sorry. I'm at work and distracted. I meant to ask, what do you put in your guacamole?"

[To be fair, her guacamole is awesome.]

"Oh, OK. Avocado, Lawry's seasoned salt, garlic, red onion, tomato, lime juice."


"I have no idea. Just make it. Why are you making guacamole, anyway?"

"For dinner."

"You're having guacamole for dinner?"

"Well, no. We're having tacos, with guacamole on the side."

"OK then. Don't forget the Lawry's seasoned salt. It is the secret."

A few hours later I realized that Mom's "recipe" -- otherwise known as "list of ingredients" -- did not include anything spicy. So I called her again.

"Do you put in a jalapeno?"

"Do I put a jalapeno in what?"

"Oh shut up, you know I'm talking about your guacamole."

"No. Just some hot sauce."

Husband had scrawled "one lonesome jalapeno" on the grocery list. I crossed it off the page.

I have often mentioned Mom's well-known disdain for ingredient measurements. Hence, she wanted me to publish her guacamole recipe as follows:
onion -- red
lime juice
hot sauce

Make guacamole.
However, even given Mom's charming disgust for method, I like to keep this space a full-service blog. So when I got home tonight I started measuring.

Just in time for Cinco de Mayo!



This recipe is easily halved. In fact, if you're only looking for a little snacking guacamole, or perhaps some to use as a condiment for tacos, I would suggest halving it.

5 avocados, cut into pieces
2 t. Lawry's seasoned salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. red onion, finely chopped
1 medium tomato, diced
1/4 c. freshly-squeezed lime juice
Hot sauce (I like Tabasco), to taste

Place the avocados in a large bowl. Using a potato masher or a fork, mash the avocados until they're relatively smooth (leave a little chunkiness; it adds to the pleasing texture). Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

Start eating.

Makes about 3 cups of guacamole.
If you're going to store leftover guacamole, do so in an airtight container, with a piece of plastic wrap pushed down on the surface of the guac. Also throw in one of the avocado pits; Mom swears this helps keep the leftover guacamole from turning brown.


Previously, on A Stove With A House Around It:

One year ago: honey biscuits
Two years ago: mole poblano