Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's Best Banana Bread/Muffins

This recipe has lots of potential for variations depending on your taste, and as it makes a big double recipe you can make multiple loaves of banana bread or bread and muffins at the same time. By dividing the batter, you can make more than one variation per recipe as well. Try walnuts and raisins, chocolate chips and raisins or walnuts or if you have simple tastes, just raisins on their own. Or use all three - although in that case you might want to use 1/2 cup of each instead of a whole cup! 

The recipe freezes well - particularly the muffins as they are easy to defrost and re-warm in the microwave. If you want to freeze a loaf of banana bread, do slice it up first as it makes it much easier when it comes time to thaw it. If you put small pieces of wax paper or greaseproof paper between the slices, you can just take a slice at a time out of the freezer. 

I’ve tried to make this recipe as healthy as possible by using whole wheat flour and a minimum of sugar; the least healthy version is when you make it with chocolate chips!  It’s also a great recipe for using up leftovers as you really want over-ripe bananas for this - the kind that are too ripe to eat are perfect for this recipe. This tastes fabulous just as it is, or spread with a bit of butter. You can even toast it.  Enjoy!

5 small (or 3 large) very ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup butter, melted
2 cups milk
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup juicy raisins and/or
1 cup chopped walnuts, pecans and/or
1 cup chocolate chips

In a large bowl, combine mashed bananas, sugars, eggs, milk and melted butter. 

In a medium bowl, combine flours, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Stir raisins and/or chocolate chips and/or  nuts if using, into this mixture.

Divide between one large loaf pan (or two small ones) and twelve to fifteen large muffin cups.  Bake together, at 350 (or 160 - 170) for about 20 - 25 minutes for the muffins and 50 minutes to an hour for a large loaf (about 50 minutes for the two to three small ones). Both are done when a piece of dried spaghetti comes out clean.  Ovens can be temperamental so you may need more or less time.

Obviously you can make 2 to 3 small loaves or 24 + muffins or any variation thereof; whatever best suits your purposes the best is absolutely fine. The beauty of this recipe (aside from its yumminess!) is its versatility.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Meatless Monday - The 21st Century Housewife's Tofu Pesto Pasta

Tofu is often associated with Asian or fusion recipes, but I find it works really well in Italian dishes too. This recipe is proper comfort food - tasty and warming on cool autumn nights. It couldn’t be easier to prepare, and if you use whole wheat pasta it is even more nutritious.

In all honestly, I’m still slowly coming to grips with tofu - it is something I enjoy eating but am still not a hundred percent sure about cooking with. I rely on the pre-marinated variety for most of my recipes as I find it less intimidating to prepare, but there is absolutely no reason not to use the kind you have to press and drain if you are braver than I am!

To serve four to six adults you need:-

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 red pepper, de-seeded and sliced
1 cup of mushrooms, sliced
1 cup of frozen peas, thawed a little if you have time
(or any other green vegetable of your choice - green beans work well here)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup of chopped or sliced tofu
(Do be sure that your brand of tofu is not made with genetically modified soy!!)
1 lb of pasta (I use whole wheat penne)
3 or 4 generous tablespoons basil pesto (homemade is lovely, but from a jar is okay too, just be sure that it is made with vegetarian cheese)
1 to 2 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream (you can use low fat if you like)

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion, red pepper and mushrooms for a couple of minutes until they begin to soften.

Add the tofu and stir fry for about five minutes, or as directed on the packaging. (If you are using green beans instead of peas add them here too.)

Stir in the peas, tomatoes, pesto and crème fraîche and warm through.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pan. Stir in the tofu pesto mixture and serve in warmed bowls or on warmed plates.

Serve with some grated vegetarian Italian cheese to hand round at the table for garnish if you like. 

Saturday, 25 September 2010

A Lovely Saturday Morning Breakfast

We needed to drop our son off at the train station in Reading this morning, so my husband and I decided to go into town and run a few errands while we were there. As it was an early start, we had not had time for breakfast, so I suggested we visit the new place in town, Bill's. 

This new Reading branch is one of three. The first restaurant, in Lewes, was started back in 2001 by a greengrocer named Bill Collison in the shop he had run for over twenty years. As you would expect of a greengrocer, the focus in Bill's restaurants is on fresh food and produce, and the ethos is really wonderful - customers sit amongst the fresh produce and other goods for sale, eating freshly prepared dishes and also being able to take the ingredients away with them to make them at home. In fact, if you fill out your shopping list, the staff will do your shopping for you while you eat and add the items to your bill. What a fantastic way to shop!

The restaurant is bright and welcoming.

As well as specials on the chalk boards, there are recipes for both dishes offered on the menu and also for the individual items of fresh produce. It's a great place for the avid foodie! 

The menu offers a great selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes, all sounding absolutely mouthwatering and causing us to decide almost immediately that we definitely needed to return as soon as possible. My husband ordered Bill's breakfast, which arrived beautifully presented and was absolutely delicious.

I had a bacon sandwich that tasted wonderful with lovely crisp bacon encased in fresh homemade bread. Our tea arrived in a nice big traditional pot, and we were given proper teacups, something I always feel is a really nice touch.  

The attention to detail at Bill's is outstanding, and the atmosphere is really convivial. They have been sensitive in their restoration of their historic location and the decor is very effective. There are two more dining rooms upstairs for use when the ones downstairs get full - and they do - one of the ladies sitting next to us said she had eaten upstairs the previous Sunday - and also for private functions, which Bill's are happy to cater on site. 

The service is quick and efficient, but we never, ever felt rushed. Bill's menu offers good value for money and servings are generous without being overwhelming. I'm looking forward to returning again soon - and this time, I'll bring my shopping list with me!

Bill's is located in St Mary's Church House on Chain Street in Reading, RG1 2HX. 
Phone +44 (0) 118 939 1365

The 21st Century Housewife was not paid for this post. 

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's Cinnamon Dolce Latte Cake

I have a serious fascination with marble cakes - most likely because my family and friends love them. There is something about the lovely swirls in the batter that somehow make them taste extra good.

This particular cake came into being because of that famous coffee company you see on virtually every street corner. Originally I was trying to duplicate those cute marble loaf cakes they have with the pink marbling. Unfortunately I was never happy with the results, and I was struggling to get the effect I wanted. I found this odd, because my traditional Marble Cake is my most oft requested cake, but for some reason, this slight variation was foiling me.

Then I got to thinking about my absolute favourite coffee at the aforementioned coffee shops - a Skinny Dolce Cinnamon Latte - which I can only get in the US as we don’t have the cinnamon syrup in the UK yet. And the idea for this cake was born. It is not as spectacular in appearance as my original marble cake  - several test cakes later the marbling is pretty, but just not as pronounced - but it tastes absolutely wonderful, and is - not surprisingly - a real treat with a cup of coffee. 

¾ cup butter, softened
1½ cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour (unbleached if possible)
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup milk
1 heaping tablespoon instant coffee granules (I use decaff)
about 2 teaspoons boiling water (use as little as possible)

Preheat oven to 350 or 160.  Grease and flour or line two eight inch round pans.

Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.  Add the vanilla and beat together. 

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Gently blend this mixture into the buttery eggy mixture alternatively with the milk - keep the electric mixer keep it on low to avoid being covered in flour! 

Remove about half to three quarters of a cup of batter from the mixing bowl and put in a small bowl. Dissolve the instant coffee in as little boiling water as possible and beat this into the mixture in the small bowl

Divide the larger bowl of batter between the two baking pans. Now dollop three spoonfuls of the coffee flavoured batter in three different places on top of the batter in each of the baking pans. Using an ordinary dinner knife, gently cut through the batter so that the coffee flavoured batter marbles through the plain batter. Here’s how each layer should look before baking.

Place the pans in the oven and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until a piece of dried spaghetti or skewer inserted into the centre of the cake layers comes out clean. 

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pans for about ten minutes.  Remove from the pans and cool on wire racks.  When completely cold, the layers can be frosted and sandwiched together to make a two layer cake.  Fill and frost as desired. 

The frosting I use consists of 6 tablespoons softened butter creamed with 3 cups icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar) in an electric mixer.  I then add enough milk or cream to make a spreadable icing (usually about 1 to 3 tablespoons). Add about 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and beat through. This should give you enough frosting to cover the top and sides of this cake, with a thin layer in the middle too. 

British Food Fortnight

This year’s British Food Fortnight is being held from 18th September to 3rd October and there is plenty happening to keep even the most devoted foodie busy. Since Autumn 2002 British Food Fortnight has helped to inform and educate people about England’s seasonal and regionally distinct produce and highlight the health benefits of local, seasonal food. The organisers aim to encourage a renaissance in the pleasures of preparing and eating regional food and drink. Thousands of activities are taking place across the country including food and drink festivals, special menus in pubs and restaurants, promotions and celebrations, making this year’s event the biggest ever. There are many diverse entities taking part this year from the Army to the BBC, Harrods and John Lewis. More than twenty British universities, the National Trust and even St Paul’s Cathedral are also hosting special events, as are many more groups, organisations and businesses. There is even afternoon tea and traditional British Ales on offer at Heathrow Airport’s first British Food Fortnight celebration.

There are also more opportunities than ever before for everyone to get out there and taste the best of British food with over twenty food festivals, fruit and vegetable shows, competitions (including the Battle of the Bangers competition for British butchers), cooking demonstrations, talks, trips to farms, and more. This year there is also a fabulous competition for British school children, where they are being challenged to plan and cook a meal based on recipes that would have been served in their region of the country in previous generations. The prize? An invitation to London to cook their chosen meal for HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and television chefs The Hairy Bikers.

More importantly, this year is a warm up for the incredible British Food Fortnight planned for London’s Olympic Year in 2012. For just that year, the dates of British Food Fortnight will be changed so that it runs in tandem with the Olympics, showcasing the best of British produce for the eyes of the whole world to see.

Want to know more? Here are some useful links, plus keep your eyes open for lots more articles in the press, promotions in shops and restaurants, and events in every corner of Britain. And if you can’t be here to celebrate with us, visit some of these great websites to get a bit of the flavour of all the wonderful food our great country has to offer.

The BBC Good Food website will be highlighting the ‘Best of British’ on their website by highlighting a different classic dish each day. Today it is Gooey School Treacle Sponge. Click here to go and have a look at more recipes at BBC Good Food.

UKTV Good Food Channel have dedicated a whole section of their website to British Food Fortnight. Click here to visit and learn more about our cuisine, regional food and for some really great traditional recipes.

You can also check out Delicious Magazine’s British Food Fortnight recipes by clicking here .

And to learn more about British Food Fortnight and loving British food all year round visit the Love British Food website itself.  They also have a page with links to some great British food recipes that you can go straight to by clicking here.

Britain has a food heritage to be proud of and British Food Fortnight is the perfect opportunity to celebrate it!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Meatless Monday -The 21st Century Housewife's Pear and Pecan Salad

I know folks usually think of salad as a summer dish, but I love it in the autumn too. There’s so much lovely produce available it is easy to make delicious salads that are also really satisfying.  I like to use nuts in my autumn salads and pears are just beginning to come into season so it is the perfect time to use them too. It is up to you whether you peel them or not - sometimes pear skins can be tough, but other times they are really tender and quite pretty - whatever works for you is fine. 

Olive oil works well in this dressing, as does walnut oil. I have also used pecan nut oil in this, but I find it has a very strong flavour, so if you do want to use it I recommend only using half pecan nut oil and half of another mild vegetable oil. You can use bagged salad for convenience, but I do find that it much tastes fresher if you use salad leaves you have washed and prepared yourself (and it is better for you too!).

This salad tastes great alongside just about anything, and as a light, nutritious lunch it works perfectly well all by itself.

To serve four as a side salad (or two as a main course) you need:-

4 tablespoons vegetable or nut oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 scant teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons honey
Washed, drained and torn mixed salad leaves
2 pears, peeled if desired, cored and thinly sliced
(Do this at the last minute or they will go brown.)
1 or 2 handfuls of pecan halves

In a small container with a lid (a clean jam jar works really well) shake together the oil, vinegar, mustard and honey.

Place the salad leaves in a big bowl. Toss in half the pecan nuts and half the sliced pears. Drizzle most of the dressing over top and toss the salad.

Garnish the salad with the remaining pecan nuts and pears and drizzle the remaining salad dressing over the top. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Gallery at Fortnum and Mason

The Gallery at London's iconic Fortnum and Mason department store is a wonderful place for lunch, and I was lucky enough to find myself there with my two favourite people on Sunday. Just up the stairs from Fortnum's amazing food hall, The Gallery focuses on seasonal ingredients for menus that highlight foods available in the Fresh Food Hall.  

Their menu has lots of variety and caters for just about every taste, and they also offer a spectacular afternoon tea. We chose from their lunch menu and were very impressed by the dishes that were on offer. 

My husband and I both ordered fish. I had one of their daily specials - loin of cod on a bed of cannellini beans - and my husband had a wonderful fillet of John Dory served on a bed of shaved yellow and green zucchini in a light lemon sauce. 
Loin of Cod on Cannellini Beans
John Dory
Our son chose the rib eye steak which was served with a herb butter and chips.

Sadly he was not given a steak knife, and unfortunately he did need one. The flavour of the meat was nice but the steak itself was on the tough side. The chips, on the other hand, were wonderful.

We also ordered a side salad and some sauteed spinach, both of which were lovely. There is a superb wine list and wines are available both by the bottle and the carafe which I always think is a nice touch as sometimes a bottle is just too much at lunchtime. We shared a beautiful Sancerre.

It did take us rather a long time to order our desserts after our main course plates were cleared away. I am sure there is no way we can have offended our waiter as we were very enthusiastic about the food and incredibly polite, but he became utterly distracted and at one point stood and stared off into space ignoring all his tables while other waiting staff flew around him. When we finally managed to discreetly attract his attention after about twenty minutes we were able to order some lovely desserts and very refreshing coffee.

I chose a Tarte Tatin - which was listed as apricot, but as they did not have enough in season apricots I was served the traditional apple variety. (The waiter did tell me this as I ordered.)

It was outstanding - perfectly caramelised and not too sweet. My husband chose the raspberry Eton mess. 

A glorious retro fuschia, it tasted lovely (he shared) with a perfect balance of tart fruit and sweet cream. I was also allowed to taste this beauty ordered by our son.

A brandy snap with cooked cherries served a la mode, this was one of those 'why didn't I think of that' desserts - simple but spectacular. The cherries were neither too sharp nor too sweet - in fact they were the perfect flavour and texture. Even my husband, who is not a fan of cherries, really loved it.

We had a wonderful lunch at The Gallery. I would not recommend their steak, but everything else was absolutely scrumptious. All the dishes were beautifully presented too. The service was rather hit and miss, but I'm hoping that it was just a one off, and I will definitely be returning to find out!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Meatless Monday - Egg Salad Sandwiches

My Mom made amazing egg salad sandwiches. They were a huge part of my childhood. I’d help slice the hard boiled eggs with her nifty egg slicing gadget, and then Mom would chop them finely. I loved ‘helping’. When my son was old enough, Mom used to let him help her too - he loved it just as much as I used to. My Mom isn’t with us anymore, but every time I make her recipe I think of her - and even though everybody tells me my egg salad tastes just as good as hers, I can’t tell you how much I’d love to taste Mom’s egg salad one more time!

You need hard boiled eggs for this recipe and my Mom always boiled hers a certain way. She’d put the cold eggs in a saucepan with cold water, heat it up to boiling, then turn off the heat and let the eggs sit for ten minutes. It’s exactly the same way Rachael Ray recommends hard boiling eggs, so if you want an expert tutorial, just click here to see Rachael explain this foolproof method.

I know a lot of folks put onion in their egg salad, but my Mom was adamant that onions had no place in it (despite the fact she loved them in other things). I think my Mom was right because I really never have tasted any other egg salad as good as hers so I never put onion in mine either.

You can toast the bread for the sandwiches if you like, or use ordinary bread. You can also serve teaspoonfuls of the filling on crackers garnished with a thin slice of olive as hors d’hoeuvres.

To make four sandwiches you need:-

8 slices of your favourite bread, toasted if you like
6 large eggs (preferably free-range and/or organic) hard boiled, cooled and finely chopped
¼ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup finely chopped red pepper
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
¼ teaspoon celery salt
½ teaspoon dried parsley
a couple of pinches of pepper
a couple of pinches of curry powder, to taste
lettuce, for garnish

Mix the eggs, celery , red pepper and mayonnaise together.. Add the celery salt, parsley, pepper and a pinch of curry powder. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Butter bread slices and make into sandwiches. Garnish with lettuce.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's Blueberry Pancakes

Perfect for Sunday brunch, these pancakes don’t take a minute to throw together. The sour cream gives them a wonderful flavour and texture and they really are the fluffiest pancakes I have ever eaten. Don't worry if you haven't got any blueberries, they taste great plain too!

This recipe makes about ten medium size pancakes.

1½ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
generous pinch of salt
½ cup sour cream or crème fraîche, preferably a low or fat-free version
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup melted butter, cooled a bit
about 1 cup blueberries, washed and drained

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, combine the sour cream or crème fraîche, milk, beaten eggs and melted butter.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones all at once, stirring just until combined. If you add the blueberries at this point you will end up with a blue streaked batter, so I prefer to add them to each pancake individually after I have put it in the pan.

Place dollops of batter (a scant quarter cup of batter makes a good size pancake) on a hot, lightly greased griddle or frying pan. Add a few blueberries to each pancake as you put it on the pan.

Cook on one side until bubbles form and break on the surface, and then turn over to cook the other side. Keep cooked pancakes warm in a low oven so you can serve them all at once.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's Shrimp Primavera

I’m a big fan of the Shrimp Primavera at The Olive Garden, a restaurant we often visit on trips to the US.  As we don’t have the Olive Garden chain here in England yet, I invented my own version to have at home. It’s creamier than the one at the Olive Garden, but I love the fresh flavour of the peppers, the kick of the balsamic vinegar and the way it enhances the shrimp.

My shortcut is to use frozen cooked shrimp, but if you would rather use fresh and cook them yourself there is no reason not to. After you cook them, you can add them to the sauce just before serving. The most important thing is to buy shrimp that have been sustainably fished, whether they are fresh or frozen.

1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, to taste
3 red, green, orange or yellow peppers (or any combination thereof), deseeded and cut in chunks
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2½ to 3 cups tomato sauce
(homemade is best, but I have used sauce from a jar when I am in a hurry)
2 generous tbsp pesto (again homemade or from a jar is fine)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano (or fresh, finely chopped oregano)
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 pound dried pasta
(I like to use penne for this, and you can use whole wheat pasta if you like it.
2 to 3 cups of thawed cooked shrimp (the large ones are best for this)
½ cup sour cream or crème fraiche
(you can use light or reduced fat versions if you prefer)

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium to low heat and gently sauté the onion until it begins to become translucent.  Grate the garlic into the pan and cook for a couple minutes.

Briefly turn up the heat and splash in the balsamic vinegar. Stir constantly and allow the onions and garlic to take it up, but don’t let them burn.

Lower the heat and stir in the tomato sauce, pesto, the bay leaf, oregano and pepper. Simmer for a few minutes while you cook the pasta in lots of boiling salted water according to package directions. 

When the pasta is cooked, drain it and keep it warm. Remove the bay leaf from the sauce and add the cooked prawns and the sour cream or crème fraiche. Stir gently and heat through for two to three minutes. Adjust the seasoning if you need to.

Serve the sauce over the pasta. It’s not strictly Italian because they don’t really do cheese with seafood, but this is really nice with a bit of grated parmesan cheese.