Strawberry Banana Bread

The bounty of berries and stone fruits available right now makes this household very happy, especially the two-year-old fruit fiend. As much as I love apples and pears in the fall, there’s something very gratifying about filling up our shopping cart in the summertime with 6-8 different varieties of fruit. This week we went home with plums, apriums (which look like apricots, but are sweeter and juicer thanks to the plum in them!), white peaches, nectarines, blueberries, and strawberries.

We’re definitely embracing the strawberries these days, as their window for consumption is shorter than that of other summer fruits. The strawberries that we buy from our grocery store come from just up the coast at Swanton Berry Farm and are so sweet and irresistible.

Hey! Who stole my garnish? 🙂

It’s time for another “Blogger’s Choice” recipe swap, hosted by A Taste of Home Cooking. I was assigned Carrie’s Sweet Life, from which to choose a recipe to make and then share with you. Carrie is the mom of two adorable little girls, and I love reading about all of the delicious things that come out of her kitchen. When I saw her recent post about Strawberry Banana Bread, I knew that it would be the perfect use for some of our strawberries.

I made a few changes, but nothing major. I used butter in place of the olive oil (best choice health-wise? No, but my favorite banana bread recipe calls for butter and I’m addicted to the flavor that it produces). Instead of mashing the strawberries, I chopped them up so that you get more intense bursts of strawberry flavor in every bite. I also swapped out 1/2 a cup of the all purpose flour for whole wheat flour, added a bit more salt, and reduced the amount of orange zest by 1 tsp. to really highlight the strawberry/banana flavors. Oh, and I mixed everything by hand instead of using a mixer. My changes are reflected below. Thanks, Carrie, for a fun, seasonal twist on banana bread. Hooray for strawberry season!

Strawberry Banana Bread

(Slightly adapted from Carrie’s Sweet Life; originally from Cook with Sara)

1/2 cup butter (8 TBS.), softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup fresh strawberries, chopped
3/4 cup mashed banana (I used 2 bananas)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. orange zest
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the strawberries, banana, vanilla, and orange zest and stir until well-combined. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Gradually add the flour mixture to the creamed butter mixture, mixing just until flour disappears.
  • Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean (mine took about 1 hour and 10 minutes). Cool on a wire rack, then remove from pan, slice, and enjoy. I especially enjoyed it the next morning, toasted up in the toaster oven with a little butter on top.

Soft Garlic Knots

During our college days in Santa Barbara, there was an Italian restaurant called Palazzio that was a popular place for freshman to go out to eat with their parents when they were in town. Parents must have liked it because of the self-serve wine casks on the restaurant walls (regulated by the honor system). I know the students liked the complimentary soft, buttery, garlicky rolls that appeared at your table soon after ordering. I loved those rolls. It was a challenge to not fill up on them before your pasta arrived. I always wondered if Palazzio was scheming to make sure we all gained the “freshman-15.”

I ate at Palazzio with Dustin and his mom when we were newly dating freshman year. It was the “meet my mom” dinner. He was nervous and dropped one of those buttery, garlicky rolls on my red suede pants (yes, I wrote red suede pants; and I rocked them). I’m not sure that stain ever came out (not that they fit me anymore so it’s a moot point), but I eventually married Dustin, so I obviously put the roll incident behind me.

I made these Soft Garlic Knots for another recipe swap. The theme this time was “Secret Recipe Club” – a popular food blogging event where you are randomly assigned someone’s blog, and you can choose which recipe you want to make and blog about. The flexibility appealed to me, so I decided to join in. I was assigned Simple Gourmet Cooking. I spent a good day or so looking through all of Dawn’s recipes. Choosing was overwhelming at first! I wanted to choose something that was a favorite in Dawn’s household so decided to narrow my search down to her “favorite posts of 2011.” When I saw the Soft Garlic Knots on this list, they immediately reminded me of my college days, Palazzio, and the first time I met my future mother-in-law. I knew this was the recipe I was going to make. I also wanted to expand my yeast-bread horizons. It’s always good to challenge yourself in the kitchen!

I’m so glad I did. These garlic knots were easy to make and shape (even with kneading the dough by hand since I don’t have a stand-mixer). And the garlicky-buttery glaze that you brush over the tops is just what they need to go from ordinary dinner roll to over-the-top dinner roll. I took Dawn’s advice and brushed the knots with even more glaze before serving. It’s hard to go wrong with more butter. Dustin, Levi, and I devoured them with our bowls of soup, and you’ll be happy to know that no one dropped a garlic knot on anyone’s lap.

Soft Garlic Knots

(Just slightly adapted from Simple Gourmet Cooking, as seen on Annie’s Eats and Amber’s Delectable Delights, originally from King Arthur Flour)

For the Dough:

3 cups bread flour
1 TBS. sugar
2 tsp. instant yeast*
1 1/4 tsp. salt
2 TBS. olive oil
1/4 cup milk
1 cup plus 2 TBS. lukewarm water

*I used active dry yeast and proofed it in the 2 TBS. lukewarm water before adding it to the dry ingredients.

For the Glaze:

2 cloves garlic
3 TBS. melted butter
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning*

* I used a combination of things I had on hand – some dried oregano, chopped fresh rosemary, and crushed red pepper flakes. Not quite Italian seasoning, but it didn’t seem to matter much in the end.

Combine the dry ingredients in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add the olive oil, milk and water.  Mix until ingredients have formed a dough (alternatively you can use a hand-mixer as I did).   Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes (I used my hands to achieve this). Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turn once to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces.

Roll each piece into a 10-inch long rope.

Tie the rope into a knot.

Take the end lying underneath the knot and bring it over the top, tucking it into the center.

Take the end lying over the knot and tuck it underneath and into the center.

Transfer shaped rolls to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for 45 minutes, until puffy.

To make the garlic butter, finely mince the garlic and mix with the melted butter and Italian seasoning.

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Brush the glaze onto the shaped rolls, reserving a little to brush on after baking, if desired.  Bake until set and lightly browned, about 15-18 minutes.  Let cool slightly before serving. Brush with more glaze.

If you want to freeze the garlic knots, slightly under-bake them (about 12-15 minutes), allow to cool completely, and store in a freezer bag.  Bake frozen garlic knots as listed in the instructions above, approximately 15 minutes, until heated through.  Brush with glaze.

Grilled Pita Bread

They’re chewy, they’re hot off the grill, and their pockets can be filled with everything from scrambled eggs to falafel. Pitas are a versatile staple to have around the house, and it felt very satisfying to make at home what we usually just grab at the store. The original recipe suggested placing a cast iron skillet on the grill over indirect heat and cooking the pitas that way, but we found that throwing them directly on the grill imparted a delicious flavor, left those appealing grill marks that lets everyone know that yes, you grilled your pitas, and allowed us to cook more at a time. We think it was the right decision (per advice from Bridge of The Way the Cookie Crumbles).

Grilled Pita Bread

(Slightly adapted from the June/July 2010 issue of Fine Cooking – Makes 10 pitas)

1 TBS. honey
2 tsp. active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour; more as needed
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 TBS. olive oil; more for the bowl and baking pans

  • In a small bowl, mix the honey with 1/2 cup lukewarm water and stir in the yeast. Let sit until the yeast has started foaming, 2-3 minutes.
  • Put both flours and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook (alternatively, you can use a hand-mixer that has a dough attachment – we don’t have a stand mixer and this worked fine). With the mixer running on low speed, mix in the olive oil until fully incorporated, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the yeast mixture and 1 cup lukewarm water and mix until fully incorporated, 2-3 minutes more. Raise the speed to medium and knead dough until it starts to come away from the sides of the bowl and forms a ball that is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky, 4-5 minutes. If the dough seems too wet and sticky, add more flour 1 tsp. at a time.
  • Raise the speed to medium high and continue kneading for another 5 minutes.
  • Oil a medium bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Roll to coat the dough with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  • Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead two or three times to remove any air bubbles. Form into a log and divide it evenly into 10 pieces. Form each piece into a ball and then roll into disks about 1/4 inch thick and 6 inches in diameter. Lightly oil two rimmed baking sheets, and place the disks on the baking sheets. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until just doubled in thickness, 30 to 45 minutes.
  • Prepare a charcoal fire with indirect heat by placing the coals to one side of the grill. Place the pitas directly on the grill (over the “cool zone” – not directly over the coals) for 2-3 minutes. Flip and cook another 2-3 minutes until cooked through. Depending on the heat of your coals, the time may be shorter or longer. Enjoy while hot!

Looking for a new idea to use homemade pitas? This is what we came up with the evening we made ours. Instead of making use of their pockets, lay them flat, spread a thin layer of goat cheese (like a fromage blanc from Harley Farms), scatter a handful of caramelized onions, and season with salt and cracked black pepper. Place the pitas back on the grill (covered) for a few minutes to warm the cheese and onions, and then top with a handful of fresh, peppery arugula and finish with a drizzle of balsamic. You’ll love the flavor combination. I made a simple fruit salad to go alongside these “pita pizzas.” I tossed freshly cut watermelon, peaches, strawberries, and plums with fresh lime juice and chopped mint. It tasted like summer!

Parmesan Herb Croutons

Turn that stale bread on the counter into crunchy, little satisfying bites! Last night we went over to my parents’ house for dinner and pumpkin carving, so I brought these croutons to use in the salad. I was inspired by the homemade croutons by Ashley of Delish and wanted to try them myself. They are also great as a crispy topping for soup.

Cut your bread into small pieces and throw them onto a rimmed baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil (I used garlic-flavored olive oil), then sprinkle with some coarse salt, a handful of grated Parmesan cheese, and some chopped fresh herbs (I used a combination of parsley, oregano, and thyme). Mix with your hands, making sure all the bread pieces are coated. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes and then stir around. Continue to bake for another 4-5 minutes or until they are golden and as crispy as you like them.

Check out our works of art from last night!

おいしい パン (Delicious Bread)

Today we have a random day off in the middle of the week thanks to 春分の日 (spring equinox day). So I thought I’d share some highlights from Kokoro, our mom ‘n pop bread shop down the street that means “heart” (and is represented by that character at the top). I briefly mentioned their tasty pita bread in a previous post but wanted to show what we typically pick up every Wednesday for lunch. Actually, this last Wednesday our friendly bread lady informed us that they will be closing for a month because her husband is having surgery. They were clearing everything out so unfortunately some of our usual suspects weren’t available – like the baguette rolls enveloping half a boiled potato topped with a drizzle of mayonnaise that hardens into a crispy salty topping. And our favorite – the curried cabbage hotdog, a Japanese take on sauerkraut, I guess. So alas, we’re without Kokoro for 30 days. Until then, you can ponder these pictures.

This one is a ham and cheese baguette. Perfectly crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy in the middle:

A croquette sandwich on a bed of cabbage in a fluffy white roll. Think mashed potato balls encrusted with crunchy panko breadcrumbs. The sandwich is drizzled with a tangy brown sauce that’s reminiscent of Worcestershire:

This is curry pan, a soft bun filled with curry paste (made from a curry roux) and topped with a sprinkling of panko:

We’ll call this one a curry-hotdog bear claw, because it has the same tasty toes that you instinctively want to eat first. But the best part is the crispy cheese and cracked black pepper on top:

There’s the hotdog baked in the “toes” along with curry paste:

And of course, something sweet. This is the closest I’ve come to eating a maple bar in Japan, my #1 favorite donut. It’s a sugared sweet roll swirled with maple:

Thanks for joining us for lunch. We’ll do it again when Kokoro reopens in May 🙂

Kiss Me, I’m Irish

Actually I have only a small fraction of Irish in me, but I love Irish Soda Bread and I fondly remember eating my Mom’s every year on St. Patrick’s Day and being pinched by my little brother if I forgot to wear green. This Irish Soda Bread is spiked with peppercorns for a spicy variation. This and a beer is the extent of my St. Patrick’s Day. I haven’t even seen a single shamrock in Japan today! This recipe is sort of a combination of two: one from epicurious and another from this blog. I had to find a recipe that doesn’t use buttermilk, so ended up using recipes that call for sour cream and substituting Japanese yogurt instead. Ah, the joys of shopping in Japan.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 TBS. sugar
1 TBS. black peppercorns
8 oz. plain yogurt (or sour cream)
1/4 cup 1% milk
1 TBS. butter, melted

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees (190 C). Grease a baking sheet and set aside.
  • In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and peppercorns.
  • Add the yogurt and combine.
  • Add the milk and stir just until dough is evenly moistened but still lumpy.
  • Form dough into a ball and shape into a domed 6-inch round on baking sheet. Cut a 1/2-inch-deep X on top of the loaf with a sharp knife, then brush with butter.
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes or until top is brown and bottom of loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Cool before slicing.

    (Redemptive) Banana Bread

    The first time I made this banana bread in Japan, I added a cup of salt to the batter instead of sugar. Salt & sugar are packaged in the same clear bags here, and I couldn’t tell the difference between the characters on the packages! I didn’t notice my unfortunate substitution until I licked the spoon at the very end. It’s almost been 2 years now, and since then I’ve redeemed myself with plenty of successful loaves of this banana bread (the recipe I grew up eating, originally from Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken’s book City Cuisine). We’ll be enjoying it for breakfast for the next few days toasted with butter. It’s also good with peanut butter! Yum!

    1 stick of butter (120 g), softened
    1 cup sugar
    2 eggs
    3 ripe bananas
    1 TBS. milk
    2 cups flour*

    1 tsp. salt
    1 tsp. baking soda
    1 tsp. baking powder
    1 cup chopped walnuts**

    *I used 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 1 cup of all purpose flour

    **I omitted this time, per Dustin’s request

    • Preheat oven to 325 degrees (160 C). Butter a loaf pan.
    • Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
    • In small bowl, mash bananas with a fork. Mix in milk and nuts (if using).
    • In another bowl, mix together flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.
    • Add banana mixture to creamed mixture and stir until combined. Add dry ingredients, mixing just until flour disappears.
    • Pour into loaf pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.