Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bananas. Bourbon. Bread. Oh, and chocolate.

When it comes to bananas, I can't eat them once they have brown spots. I don't know why, it's just a thing. So I try not to buy too many bananas at once to avoid a stockpile. When they do turn brown, I simply throw 'em in the freezer to use later. Usually for banana pancakes. This time, however, I switched it up. See, I just got this delightful, wonderful, stupendous cookbook last week and in it was this delightful, wonderful, stupendous recipe that I just had to try. What's this cookbook, you ask? It's Joy the Baker. My friend Aneta turned me on to her website a while back and since that day, it's the first place I check when I want to bake something. The website is here, and you can find her cookbook on Amazon. It will rock your socks off. And what is this recipe, you ask?

It's a Chocolate Bourbon-spiked Banana Bread. And it is rad.

Here's what you need

2 c all-purpose flour (I used whole-wheat)
3 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
1 c sugar (I used sugar in the raw)
2 large eggs
3 mashed ripe bananas (about 1.5 c)
1 t lemon juice
3T bourbon (I used Pendleton b/c it's what I had)
1 c chopped walnuts (I omitted this b/c I didn't have any on hand)
1 c semisweet chocolate chips

Here's what you do

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour an 8x4 or 9x5 loaf pan. Set aside out of reach of dog.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.

Add eggs one at a time, beating for one minute between each. Stop mixer, scrape down sides and add the bananas, lemon juice and bourbon. Beat until all mixed together.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture all at once. Beat until almost incorporated. Stop mixer, remove paddle, and remove bowl from stand. Add the walnuts and chocolate, fold in with a spatula.

Spoon mixture into loaf pan. Bake for 45 min to one hour, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow loaf to cool in the pan for 20 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve with more bourbon or coffee. Or eat it standing up at the counter.

Who said I was dignified?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Last Monday night. (Take that, Katy Perry!)

My week started off poorly and I don't even know why. It just did. So I called my mom during my lunch, because that's what I do when I'm having a bad day. I confessed to eating a fun size Snickers bar at lunch. Her response, "Oh it must be bad, you don't even like chocolate." Yup, mom, it was that bad. So I skipped my Monday night meeting at work and came home early so I could blast some Ray LaMontagne, dance with the dogs, drink some wine and cook. I cook when I'm stressed. It stems from one summer when I worked on a train and was on duty seven days a week. Full disclosure, I worked for the train for something like ten summers and was their marketing director by the time I was 23. I met some of the most amazing people working for the train and still am close with a few of them. I also still have some awesome recipes from our train chefs over the years.

I lived with the CEO of my company in the summers in Sandpoint, Idaho, whom I refer to as my Fake Mom. In a previous life, she ran a catering company. And before that, lived on a ranch and fed about a million people on a daily basis. My love of cooking, in part, comes from her. We would have this terribly long day at work, come home, crack a bottle of wine, get to cooking, and just talk. Some of our best ideas for the business happened while we were grilling steaks, browning mushrooms or making hash browns. She taught me how to cut an avocado, how to grill a steak, how to caramelize onions and how not to take shit from anybody. In the kitchen or in the boardroom. It was eye-opening. And life changing. So after a long day, I like to get down in the kitchen. And so I did.

I also ended up breaking into a house that night. In a dress. In 40 mph winds. But I'll get to that part in a minute.

So I get home. Let the dogs out. Light some candles because my house smells like wet dog and I just can't stand it. Open a bottle of Elk Cove Pinot Noir, which is my favorite wine ever. Seriously, try in now. It's from the Willamette Valley and that alone makes me swoon. I decided to make a pasta dish based on a Jamie Oliver recipe. I've made this recipe so many times it's taken on a life of its' own. Basically, it's a spicy bread crumb thing that impresses every time.

The Naked Chef's Spicy Pasta


big old handful whole wheat pasta
half a baguette, food processed up into bread crumbs
fresh thyme
garlic - lots and lots, to taste
olive oil
red chili pepper flakes
one container anchovies


Basically, rip the bread up, toss it in the food processor. Pulse it until it's in crumbles. Add some olive oil in, the thyme and some of the garlic. Once it's all blitzed together. Warm about two tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan, when it's hot, dump the bread crumb mixture in and sort of fry it until it's nice and crispy. When it's cooked, drain it on a paper towel.

Now start the pasta water - salt it, bring it to a boil, throw in the pasta and let it go for about 7-8 minutes. While this is happening, throw a bit more olive oil in the big pan you just took the bread mix out of. Add some more garlic, wait 30 seconds and dump the container of anchovies in and the red chili pepper flakes. Stir 'em around and let them dissolve. This takes a few minutes, then add the bread mix back in.

Drain the pasta, add that in the sauce pan as well. I find that using tongs really helps mixing this concoction up and serving it. Serve in shallow bowls with your favorite wine.

Now, if you are hesitant to use anchovies, don't be. They dissolve completely when you cook them in this recipe so that you are just left with the essence of the sea. That sultry, salty taste that is just so good. This is why you shouldn't salt anything in this recipe aside from the pasta water.

Still curious about the breaking and entering? I thought you might be. My friend Jackie managed to lock herself out, so of course she calls me to help her break in. Should I be upset or flattered? I think flattered. So my roommate and I grab a toolbox and a step-ladder and head over. Amanda almost gets in the front door with a credit card - I was shocked that this was a real thing. We hem and haw over how to get in, try some stuff and fail. So I call my wind farm friends in town to ask for a certain type of screwdriver to get the storm window off. I go down to the bar to grab keys/screwdriver and instead they send me back to the house with a wind farmer. He brought his beer. He too, was unsuccessful with the breaking in. So he called another guy. Who showed up with the right tools and got us in right quick. And then we went to the bar and had a beer. Because after standing in the cold for almost an hour in a wrap dress with a fierce wind, I was ready for a beer. So we had a beer, and then we came home and finished dinner, shocked that the dogs had not helped themselves to the food on the counter. It was a Leap Year miracle.

So the morale of this story? If you're stressed about something, make some cookies or some soup. You will absolutely feel better when you see a meal come together. Or eat a bit of cookie dough batter.

Bountiful Baskets.

Those of you I speak with on a regular basis know that I have serious issues with the grocery store in my town. And yes, there is only one. It's M.O. is to charge people about twice what we'd pay anywhere else. Back in September, a four-pack of Tillamook butter was six dollars. For reals. Redneck bacon is around $14 and sweet potatoes have even been near $2/pound. It is out of hand. Also, they have no sparkling water which just pisses me right off. I have to import from Costco. I can't be the only person up here who digs San Pellegrino. I was told by somebody up here last year that he only ever saw me in produce section and it's true. Everything else I buy in Whitefish or Missoula when I visit.

However, it was only true until a few weeks ago when Bountiful Baskets decided to have a site in Cut Bank. I'll explain what BB is in a few minutes, but just know that every week, the program has sold out in about 15 minutes. That's how starved this town is for fresh, affordable produce. Now I've done CSA shares before, where you get produce delivered every week and it was always amazing. The people I had the share with had this incredible cookbook all about vegetables and we would reference it every week in order to figure out how to cook some of the produce we got. So when I heard about the BB program up here, I knew I had to jump on board.

The BB program is unique in that there is no required time commitment. There are a limited number of shares each week and when they are gone, they're gone. I like that if I know I'm going to be out of town, I don't have to send someone to pick up my share or worry about produce going to waste, I can just not buy a share that week.

There's a basic basket that you get for $15 ($10 more if you prefer organic). There are also a variety of add-ons you can do every week. This week the options were honey, 9-grain bread, a citrus box, and an Asian vegetable pack. I opted for the regular basket and added the Asian pack. Why? Because the only bean sprouts I can find on the Hi-Line come in a can. That is all.

Basically, the bottom line is that you should all check out this program if you live somewhere that you might not have access to the best produce year round. The above picture is my haul from just this week. My roommate and I have so many veggies we don't know how we are going to eat them all. We got mangoes, apples, oranges, a whole pineapple, bananas (14 of them!), celery, carrots, kale, onions, garlic, cukes, lettuce, bok choy, ginger, green onions, napa cabbage, water chestnuts, snap peas, anaheim chilies, mini peppers, and who knows what else. My mind seriously went into overload with all the different things I was thinking about making.

So check out Bountiful Baskets. You can thank me later. You know, with some produce. Or bacon. I'll always accept bacon in place of cash or veggies.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Is there anything better than homemade guacamole? I think not. The only thing that could have upped the ante on this night would have been those handmade tortilla chips from Pattee Creek Market in Missoula. Those things are my crack. It's good I no longer live a few blocks away from that hypnotic place. Anywho, back to the guac.

One night a few weeks ago, my roommate and I were feeling super lazy and decided to have appetizers for dinner. We have a couple of avocados sitting around so I decided to whip up some guac to eat for dinner. Honestly I would have been happy with just that. But we threw in some hot wings and celery so we could have a "balanced" meal.

Guacamole is so easy to make, and i don't think people realize that. My roommate had never had it made from anything but the packaged seasoning, which broke my heart. And after that night, I don't think she'll make it any other way than from scratch. It's that delicious.


couple of avocados

How do you tell if they avocados are ripe, you ask? Well, gently press the outside of the avocado and if it gives just a bit, it's ready. If you buy them before they are ripe and want to use them quickly, just toss 'em in a paper bag and close it up for a day or two so they can ripen. Cut in half, cross hatch it with a knife and scoop it out with a spoon. On the half with the seed, sort of slam your knife blade into it, make sure it's secure, twist and the seed will pop out.

garlic, minced - lots and lots if you're me. just do it to taste kids.
lime or lemon juice - and if you happen to have it around, some zest
red chili pepper flakes - again, to taste
red onion - maybe a 1/4 cup, minced
cilantro, chopped - to taste, I love cilantro so I usually chop up somewhere close to a loosely-packed cup
tomato - small, deseeded, chopped

So into a large bowl toss the avocados, red onion, garlic, tomato and citrus. Using a pestal, mash it all up.

Sprinkle the red chili flakes over the top and mash it up so more, yo'. Last, but certainly not least, add the cilantro and gently mash one more time. Treat it like a lady this time, with a little finesse.

See, guacamole is easy, peesy, lemon, squeezey. It's a great item to take to a party, or when you're curled up in your jams watching tv on a Saturday night because you live in the smallest town ever and there's not much to do and the wind is blowing at 50 mph and you just don't want to leave the house. Hypothetically speaking, of course. So every once in a while, I think it's okay to just have chips and guac for dinner. Because if you have chips and guac every week, it just doesn't taste as good.