Browsing Tag

snack

book review, recipe

The Couple Next Door + Coffee-Glazed Banana Bread

From serious memoir to childhood favorite to suspenseful thriller – my last three books have been a little sporadic. The Couple Next Door is certainly more adult than The Secret Garden, but secrets still abound. After a shocking ending to a dinner party with (not surprisingly) the couple next door, Marco and Anne’s seemingly perfect life begins to unravel.

51qI2RzRlzL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door was fast-paced, with new revelations at nearly every turn of the page. With a cast of characters that included an inappropriately flirtatious neighbor, a stay-at-home mom with a questionable past, and a power-hungry stepfather, no one’s motives were clear but everyone was suspect.

As the plot twisted here and turned there, food didn’t play much of a role. Despite starting with a dinner party, nothing much was mentioned aside from coffee. Uncertainty breeds sleeplessness, and the best cure for that is caffeine. In one instance, Lapena points out that the two main characters were “both living mostly on coffee and despair.”

In an effort to impart some comfort on a decidedly uncomforting storyline, I opted to make banana bread – with a coffee glaze. Comfort meets caffeine, thanks to this recipe from A Latte Food.

Like most quick breads, this one is pretty easy to get together. The really hard part is waiting for the baking (and cooling!) before you can finally eat it.

I had already-brewed coffee ready to go, but if you don’t, I suggest starting that process before you make the bread. I began by mashing up the bananas, which is always fun to do first thing in the morning. (Make sure your bananas are ripe. See them pre-mashed below; and mashed, with Beta looking on, wondering why she can’t have some of her favorite fruit too.)

I creamed the softened butter together with the sugars, adding the eggs and vanilla extract once the mixture was light and fluffy. To the wet ingredients, I slowly incorporated the flour, salt and baking soda. Once all was well-combined, I added the mashed bananas, stirring until just mixed.

Once in the prepared loaf pan, I let it bake in the oven for about an hour. With a few minutes to spare before the bread came out of the oven, I began the glaze so I could pour it over the loaf before it cooled completely. I whisked together the powdered sugar, brewed coffee and vanilla extract to form a light coffee-colored glaze.

I drizzled it over the still-cooling banana bread, with a plate underneath to catch any sugar-y drips.

img_1497img_1499

For those of you who don’t know me, I have a confession to make: I don’t like coffee. (Rory Gilmore would be horrified, I know.) I do, however, love banana bread. I thought the glaze tasted exactly like coffee, but Scott – who loves coffee – thought it tasted more like sugar. When I brought it to work, consensus all around was that it tasted good. If you actually like coffee, and prefer a more coffee-flavored glaze, I would suggest adding the espresso powder.

Or just enjoy it with a cup of coffee.

img_1498

Coffee-Glazed Banana Bread

  • Servings: 1 loaf
  • Print

Very slightly adapted from: A Latte Food

Ingredients

    Bread

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 3 to 4 medium or large bananas
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • Coffee Glaze

  • 2 TBS strong coffee, brewed
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp espresso powder (optional)

Directions

    Bread

  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9×5 loaf pan.
  2. In a small bowl, mash bananas. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream butter sugar, and brown sugar together until light and fluffy.
  4. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add in vanilla extract, and mix.
  5. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, and stir until just combined.
  6. Add in mashed bananas, and mix until combined. Pour into prepared loaf pan.
  7. Bake for about 60 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean with just a few moist crumbs stuck to it.
  8. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Move to a wire cooling rack.
  9. Glaze

  10. While bread is cooling, mix together powdered sugar, vanilla extract, espresso powder (if using), and 2 TBS brewed coffee. If the glaze is thicker than your desired preference, add in additional brewed coffee. [I used 2 TBS of coffee and no espresso powder and it was a perfect thickness; according to many, however, the flavor was not enough like coffee. Additional liquid may be required if adding the powder, but taste as you go to ensure a flavor you like.]
  11. Pour the glaze evenly over the loaf. Allow the glaze to harden completely before cutting into slices.

book review, recipe

Behold the Dreamers + Chicken Suya

Jende and Neni Jonga have come to New York City (Harlem) from Cameroon to achieve the American Dream. After struggling to make ends meet for a few years in the States, Jende secures a meeting with Clark Edwards, a high-level executive at Lehman Brothers. In 2007, this seems like another step closer to Jende’s dream.

26025588

In Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue examines the American Dream from both sides – the Jengas’ desperate pursuit of it serves as a stark contrast to the Edwards’ comfortable lifestyle and achievements. Jende is overjoyed at the opportunity to chauffeur the entire Edwards family around the city so that Neni can complete pharmacy school and take care of their son.

In the driver’s seat, Jende is privy to many of Clark’s important conversations in the car but never lets the sensitive information slip. Even when tensions arise between the Jongas and the Edwards, Jende remains ever-loyal, not wanting to upset the careful balance that is keeping him in America. Mbue’s novel is a reminder that even those comfortably at the top should never get too comfortable, and sometimes it’s important to take a step back to determine what will truly make you happy.

Even though Jende and Neni are all too happy to be in the U.S., their kitchen table is filled with foods that remind them of home. One of the first meals we see Jende eat in the novel is African pepper chicken. I found a recipe online for Chicken Suya, commonly found in Cameroon, served with an African Pepper Sauce. Neni also serves fried ripe plantains throughout the novel, so I added those to the menu. Together, I thought it would make the perfect meal to accompany their story.

I started with the sauce and tried to remain unintimidated by the number of hot peppers it required. After cleaning and chopping them, I also roughly chopped the onions and tomatoes. Everything went into the food processor.

It came together pretty easily (as most blended sauces do), and while it simmered on the stovetop, I began prepping the chicken. I trimmed and cut the chicken thighs, dividing the pieces onto the skewers.

For the rub, I combined all of the spices, peanut butter and bouillon, working it into a paste of sorts. It ended up being extremely thick – to the point that it was nearly impossible to “brush” on the chicken as directed. I thinned it out a bit with water and ended up forcefully painting it onto the chicken with a rubber scraper.

It’s up to you, but it might be worthwhile to thin it out a bit more (either with oil or water) so that you can cover your chicken more thoroughly – mine ended up rather blotchy.

While the chicken baked, I let my oil get up to temperature for the plantains. The sauce was done by this time, so I removed it from the heat, allowing it to cool off a bit before we ate.

For the fried ripe plantains, I tried to find as a ripe a plantain as I could at the store. Thinking it would be similar to peeling a banana, I ended up having a difficult time. I would’ve benefitted from a handy guide, like this one. (Hopefully your peeling experience will be much easier than mine!) Once the pesky peel was off, I sliced it on the diagonal into large oblong coins.

img_1373

Frying them proved to be much easier than peeling them, thanks in part to my adventures in frying the johnnycakes the week before.

After a few minutes, they were a nice golden brown. I scooped them out onto a paper towel and sprinkled with salt. They proved to be not only a nice complement to the seasoning of the chicken and the spiciness of the sauce but a break from the heat as well!

I was happy to be able to make a dish that paired so well with such an enjoyable book, but truth be told, this wasn’t something I would make again. Not one for super spicy foods anyway, I could only use about a tablespoon of the pepper sauce over two skewers of chicken. My boyfriend (who loves spicy food) thought the sauce went well alongside the chicken but probably not something he’d eat without it. And, heads up, the recipe makes a decent amount of sauce – at least 4 cups.      

Chicken Suya with African Pepper Sauce

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Print


From: African Bites [Annotations from me]

Ingredients

    Suya Chicken

  • 3 pounds skinless chicken thigh
  • 4 tablespoons peanut butter or groundnut paste
  • ½ – 1 tablespoon cayenne (depending on heat preference)
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Bouillon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 – 8 wooden skewers
  • African Pepper Sauce

  • 10 peppers (habenero or scotch bonnet)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoon bouillon powder [I used chicken]
  • 2 basil leaves [I used 1 teaspoon dried basil]
  • 2 tablespoon parsley [I used 2 teaspoons dried parsley]
  • 1 – 3 roma tomatoes (adjust for spiciness)
  • ½ – 1 cup vegetable oil
  • salt

Directions

  1. Coarsely chop the tomatoes, onions, and discard stems of the peppers. Put the tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, parsley, basil, bouillon in the food processor along with as much oil as desired. [I used ½ cup, which seemed to be enough for my sauce.]
  2. Pour the pepper mixture into a small sauce pan bring to a boil and slowly simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burns. Add salt and adjust as needed.
  3. While the sauce is simmering, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Soak the skewers for at least 20 minutes totally submerged in water before using it to prevent burns.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, white pepper, cayenne pepper, peanut butter and bouillon. [Mine formed a pretty thick paste, making it difficult to brush/spread on the chicken. I would suggest adding some water or oil as needed to thin it out a bit.]
  5. Pat the chicken thighs dry with a paper towel. You want to have a completely dry chicken before cooking. Trim and slice the chicken into thin slices or bite size cuts (suggest cutting on a diagonal).
  6. Lightly spray or oil baking sheet or roasting pan to prevent the suya from sticking to the pan. [I covered mine with foil to make cleanup easier.]
  7. Thread the chicken onto the skewers (about 4 per skewer), making sure the skewer is fully covered with slices of chicken.
  8. Brush the chicken skewer with spice mixture on both sides. Place skewers on the sprayed/oiled roasting pan or baking sheet.
  9. Drizzle with oil and bake for about 20-25 minutes, flipping halfway through baking until chicken is fully cooked through. Towards the last 3 minutes of baking, switch to broil to get a nice crisp brown on the outside.
  10. When the pepper sauce is finished, let it cool. Pour in a mason jar or a container with a lid and store in a fridge for about a week. In order for your pepper sauce to last longer, make sure it is fully covered in oil.
  11. Serve chicken suya warm with a side of African pepper sauce [and fried plantains, if desired].

book review, recipe

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry + Swedish Dream Cookies

Almost-eight-year-old Elsa’s best friend is her eccentric grandmother. Like her granny, Elsa is different. Different in a way that makes her good at running, because “that’s what happens when you get chased all the time.” Different in a way that allows to her to relate to adults with wisdom beyond her years.

51pCIyD8BvL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_[1]

As in Fredrick Backman’s first novel, the successful A Man Called Ove (which I also loved), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry revolves around a cast of Swedish neighbors, whom we meet as Elsa embarks on a so-called treasure hunt to find and deliver apologetic letters from her grandmother.  

When the story begins, Elsa seems to know some of the neighbors well enough. Maud and her husband Lennart, for example, are the nicest and second nicest persons in the world, respectively. Elsa likes them because they “always have dreams and hugs – dreams are a kind of cookie; hugs are just normal hugs.” On the other hand, there are The Monster and Our Friend. The idea of either of them emerging into the hallway terrifies Elsa.

The letter deliveries help Elsa to conquer her fears and bring the entire house of neighbors together. Sad yet uplifting, Backman’s charmingly written novel carries you to the Land of Almost-Awake and back again, as you uncover the unexpected truths behind Granny’s fairy tales with Elsa.

Since I recently made cinnamon buns (Granny’s favorite food), I was so happy when I found out that dreams are an actual cookie! Apparently a staple in Sweden, they are beloved by both Elsa and Our Friend.

I found the recipe searching around online and immediately set about to obtain some baker’s ammonia – the only ingredient not readily available in American grocery stores. After 48 hours I had it (thank you, Amazon Prime!), and cookie baking could begin.

After creaming the butter and sugar, adding the ammonium carbonate, almond extract and flour, I ended with a sort of crumbly mixture that looked like this:

IMG_1103

It looked unlike any cookie dough I’d made in the past but I kept on and added the flaked coconut. I was convinced the chilling process would bring it all together, so I formed my disk and popped the dough into the refrigerator.

Even after a long chill, the dough remained crumbly as I tried forming it into 1-inch balls. I recommend doing this with your hands, as opposed to a scooper, which I tried first to encourage uniformity. It ended up being much easier. I think the heat of the hands helped them keep their shape a bit better.

IMG_1104

I baked three batches of one cookie sheet each (16 cookies), closely following the recipe’s recommendation of using the top-third of the oven only. I was a bit disappointed that the recipe only made 52 cookies, well short of the 72 it was supposed to – even after carefully making sure they were as close to an inch as possible. Still, they turned out beautifully!

IMG_1008

I’m usually not one for coconut, but to me, they were more like an amazing sugar cookie. These dreams may have required tracking down an obscure ingredient online, but they were worth it. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Swedish Dream Cookies

  • Servings: Yields about 4 dozen
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon crushed ammonium carbonate (also called baker’s ammonium)
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut

Directions

  1. Sift together flour and salt.
  2. Beat together butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in ammonium carbonate and almond extract until combined well. Mix in flour mixture at low speed just until blended, then stir in coconut.
  3. Form dough into a disk and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, about 1 hour. [You could probably skip the chilling, if you’re short on time. A few comments said they didn’t chill it and it made no difference. I chilled mine, but the dough was essentially the same consistency after an hour as it was before.]
  4. Preheat oven to 300°F.
  5. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and arrange 1 inch apart on greased baking sheets.
  6. Bake cookies in batches in upper third of oven until pale golden around edges, 18 to 22 minutes. [Mine baked for 21 minutes.] Transfer cookies to a rack to cool.

book review, recipe

Once Upon a River + Cinnamon Bread

Confession: I’m probably in too many book clubs. My last post was about a novel I read for my book club, and this one is too. At this particular book club, we try our best to choose a restaurant we haven’t been to before that also reflects the culture or location of our latest selection. For August, we opted to vote on all Michigan-based books and ultimately went with Once Upon a River by Michigan author Bonnie Jo Campbell as our pick. (Our restaurant choice was a local brewery.)

cover

When I received this book as a gift about two years ago, I was initially excited. It’s a novel by someone from Michigan about characters in Michigan, and as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am nothing if not ridiculously proud of being a Michigander. That being said, I started it and couldn’t get past the first few chapters. So I set it aside, only to suggest it as a part of this vote. I don’t like giving up on books, and I wanted to give it another try (with some motivation to help me along).

Once Upon a River follows the journey of Margo Crane, a beautiful sixteen-year-old with a penchant for target shooting, a skill that ultimately changes the course of her life. As Margo sets off along the river in search of her mother, she does what she must to survive, both taking advantage of others and being taken advantage of by them. For me, Margo was a hard character to connect with – she wasn’t particularly personable and I questioned many of her decisions – but I warmed to her towards the end. She stumbles along the way, but she also grows stronger and more sure of herself.

Because of her ability to shoot a rabbit in the eye and her extensive knowledge of the world around her, Margo rarely goes hungry. She is able to hunt (and gut and skin) various game and to find edible plant-life along the way. Still, nothing beats the comforts of home, specifically her Aunt Joanna’s cinnamon bread.

Twelve times throughout the course of the story, Campbell mentions and describes this delicious bread. At one point, she writes, “Margo awoke dreaming of cinnamon bread and apple butter so vividly she could taste it.” I, too, found myself hankering for this delicious homemade bread.

So, despite it being 80+ degrees all week long, I decided to make some myself. (Thank goodness for central air!) I found a recipe for Amish Cinnamon Bread from Farm Girl Tails and got to work.

As I was assembling the ingredients, I realized my butter wasn’t softened, which is always the case when I am preparing to bake. Instead of making the mistake I usually make and softening (er, melting) it in the microwave, I remembered to use this handy Pinterest trick. I hadn’t tried it before, so I was a bit skeptical, but it worked like a charm! I left the butter sticks under the glasses for about 5 minutes, but 10 minutes would probably have been better.  

IMG_0888

After I was done creaming the (mostly) softened butter with the eggs and sugar, which I decided to do by hand rather than with a mixer, I added the remaining ingredients. The final mixing process was a bit slow-going, but I managed to work up the strength to get through it. Ta-da!

IMG_0887

I filled each loaf pan with 1/4 of the batter and sprinkled with 3/4 of the cinnamon-sugar mixture. It felt like a LOT of cinnamon and sugar. I covered it with the rest of the batter and cinnamon-sugar, swirled, and tossed it into the oven. Here’s the before:

IMG_0886

And, following 65 minutes of baking and 20 minutes of cooling, here’s the after:

IMG_0885

It was definitely best served warm from the oven. I personally wanted it to be more cinnamon-y, but everyone else who ate it didn’t seem to have the same complaint, so that was probably just me.   

Amish Cinnamon Bread

  • Servings: Yields 2 loaves
  • Print


From: Farm Girl Tails [Annotations from me]

Batter Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

Cinnamon Sugar Mixture

  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Directions

  1. Grease two 9×5 loaf pans. Set aside until needed.
  2. Cream together butter, 2 cups sugar, and eggs. Add milk, flour, and baking soda. Mix well.
  3. Put 1/4 of batter in each greased loaf pan.
  4. Mix the 2/3 cup sugar and cinnamon in separate bowl.
  5. Sprinkle 3/4 of the cinnamon mixture on top of the batter in each pan. Add remaining batter to pans; sprinkle the remaining cinnamon topping. Swirl with a knife.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees in a preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until tester comes clean. [I had to bake them for 65 minutes before they were finished.]
  7. Cool in pan for 20 minutes before removing from pan.


Excellent if eaten warm out of the oven [yes!] but great toasted with a little butter or cinnamon butter. [Margo would recommend it with apple butter.]

book review, recipe

The Age of Miracles + Pineapple Salsa

The Age of Miracles is the first book I’ve reread in a long while, and I’m really glad that I did. There is only so much time in a day, and with an ever-growing to-read list, I’m normally not much of a re-reader. As time is something this book calls into question, it seems a fitting choice.

book cover

When I originally read Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel three years ago, I truly enjoyed it. I suggested it to friends, and I bought a copy of my very own. (I tend to buy books pretty selectively, preferring instead to borrow from the local library.) Its place on my bookshelf brought it top of mind when my book club was looking for suggestions, and so we chose it as our most recent selection.

In The Age of Miracles, the world changes suddenly and inexplicably – the earth experiences a “slowing” and time as we know it begins to shift. Normal begins to look very different. Narrated by Julia, an insightful preteen living in California with her parents, we experience the smaller struggles of her family and her community and witness the larger struggles of society as everyone tries to adjust to this new concept of time, and ultimately, the impending end of the world.

I first read this novel in the winter, when days were short and nights were long. This time, in the height of summer, the opposite is true – the sun rises early and sets late, days are hot and bright and stretched out. None of this compares to the lengths of the days and nights within Walker’s novel, of course. She does an excellent job of taking an overwhelming concept and keeping it simple and human.

For a book with very little plot – something that tends to be a negative for me – I found it a pleasure to read because Walker’s prose paints a vivid picture of the characters as they figure out their new world. So many of her lines had me reaching for a pen.

As I was thinking of what to bring to our book club potluck, one such line struck me: “They were the last pineapples we’d ever eat in our lives.” If my memory serves, it’s the first time Julia mentions a specific food that they never have again.

I ultimately decided to make pineapple salsa because it was something I could prepare the night before, but mostly because it didn’t require turning on my oven in the middle of a heat wave. I went with a recipe from Barefeet in the Kitchen for The BEST Pineapple Salsa and didn’t alter it at all. I was nervous enough about tackling a pineapple for the first time.

Due to that worry, I almost didn’t even buy a real pineapple and went up to the cashier with two cans of them pre-sliced. I had glanced around the produce section, saw none, and thought, “Well, this will be easier than I thought.” But, as I stood in line, I noticed a tuft of pineapple leaves sticking out of the bag of the man in front of me. I was stuck – they had real pineapples and I knew I had to suck it up and figure it out.

Here is a picture of us (I’m trying to hide my terror with confidence):

IMG_0861

Thankfully, I thought to ask my friend and fellow foodie Scott who texted me some simple directions and encouragement to set me on the right path. It wasn’t as hard as it seemed! I ate some to celebrate before dicing the rest (perhaps a little less “finely” than suggested). I followed suit with the jalapeno, cilantro and green onion, making sure those dices were more appropriately sized. (I’m a little obsessed with cilantro, see below.)

IMG_0857

After adding the salt, pepper and lime juice, I tossed it all together and taste-tested. It was delicious! And here it is:

IMG_0862

The BEST Pineapple Jalapeno Salsa

  • Servings: yields about 3 cups
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 small pineapple, peeled cored and very finely diced, about 2 1/2 cups
  • 1 large jalapeno, seeded and finely minced, about 2 tablespoons, add more for a spicier bite
  • 1 small lime, juiced, about 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 handful cilantro (leaves only), finely chopped, about 2 tablespoons
  • 3 green onions, very thinly sliced, about 2 tablespoons
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, adjust to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, adjust to taste

Directions


Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Cover with lid or transfer to an airtight container. Chill until ready to serve. This will keep well in the refrigerator for about a week. Enjoy!


Excellent with tortilla chips or as a topping for tacos.