Friday, July 25, 2008

Fried Plantains

Fried plantains are an obligation at some Cuban restaurants. At least for me. They've always been a favorite, but for some reason I never attempted to make them until recently. They are very easy to make, and (to my delight) taste exactly as I remember them.

You need:
Plantain (the skin should be black. Not brown, not spotty...but black)
Vegetable or olive oil (just enough to cover the bottom of the skillet)

All you have to do is peel the plantain and slice it on a diagonal into wedges about an inch thick. Heat oil in a skillet until it's hot enough that water goes "PISHHHH!" when you flick it in there.
Lay your plantain slices in the oil and fry them until each side is dark brown. Then flip them and do the same. Reduce heat and let them caramelize for a minute or two.

Ta-Da! So easy! (Although I always set off my smoke detector any time I fry *anything*)

You can serve them with a little bit of honey if you want, but they are plenty sweet.

Two things I love about fried plantains:
1. You can use waaaay ripe plantains. Mine had been slightly neglected and the skin was starting to mold (the insides were OK) so the insides were like baby food...and they still came out perfect after frying.
2. Even if you burn a side to a cinder, they still taste good!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Earth-Friendly Dish Detergent

After reading a fabulous book called "The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman, I am newly inspired to do more to keep polymers out of my home (where they won't make their way to the oceans- where plastic is now the most common oceanic surface feature).
Here is something simple that everyone can feel good about. Make your own dishwashing detergent! Granted, using a dishwasher isn't the most Earth-friendly thing you can do. It uses a lot of water and energy. However, the way I cook and do dishes, I think sometimes it is more efficient to just run the darn thing (and it's EnergyStar rated, so that's good!)
Most dishwashing detergents you buy in the store not only come in a plastic bottle, but they contain unnecessary and harmful chemicals, like phosphates.
All you really need is a mild abrasive, and an antimicrobial. Baking soda happens to be both.
Here's what you do:

One part Baking Soda
One part Borax

(You can also use:
One part Sodium Carbonate
One part Borax. )

Just mix them up in a recycled container and use two tablespoons per load. This is not only better for the planet (both ingredients are water-soluble and harmless) but it's also extremely cheap.
How awesome is that?!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Bananas and Basil

It's hot. I think it hit 90F today. It's way too hot to bake cookies. I could probably pour batter on the sidewalk and bake cookies. But. I baked cookies. When a banana cookie craving hits, it's hard to control my actions.
To even out the extra 350 degrees in my house, I whipped up a banana basil smoothie. I know. It sounds strange. I have this giant basil plant that I suspect has some kind of hypnotic control over me; forcing me to add basil to every recipe.

Here's what I did:

1. Half a really ripe banana (a whole would have been better, but I used it for making cookies)
2. Two basil leaves (big 'uns!)
3. A sprig of stevia (for sweetness...didn't really work. You could skip this part and just use sugar)
4. Soymilk (vanilla flavor would have been yummy)
5. Ice (I used enough ice and soymilk in combination to make it blend.)
Then I put it in the blender and pressed the button. That's how smoothies are made.

Sure, sure. Everyone knows how to make a smoothie. Who cares? How did it taste?! I actually thought this would be a basil nightmare. I thought I added too much basil and it would end up tasting like one of those weird basil-seed drinks at the Asian market with the slimy seeds in it. (I digress...) But... It really is very tasty! The flavor is very light, which really surprised me. It went well with the cookies too.

Speaking of cookies, they were really yummy too. I don't know why exactly banana cookies always come out like soft little pillows filled with angel wing down. But they do. Angels vacationing on a tropical island.
The recipe I used is a little more interesting than recipes I've used in the past. Here's what I did:

1/2 C. butter @ room temp (which in my case is about 400F *wipes sweat from brow*)
1 C. sugar
1 egg
1 C. mashed bananas (or 2.5 big guys)
1 tsp. baking soda
2 C. flour
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 bars of chocolate (dark and milk) crumbled up.

Heat oven to 350F. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and beat until also fluffy.

Mix mashed bananas and baking soda. Let sit for 2 minutes. (the recipe says that the baking soda will react with the acid in the bananas and make the cookies rise. Interesting...)

Mix banana mash into butter mixture. Mix together the flour, salt, and spices. Sift into the banana mixture and mix it until it's just combined.

Fold in the chocolate and drop dollops onto a baking sheet. Pull 'em out when they're golden-brown.

I can already tell I'm gonna eat too many of these.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Making Pasta

I went thrift shopping today and found a pasta maker at the ABCCM for $5. I've never made pasta before, so I thought 'what the heck' and bought it. I've seen a couple of interesting pasta flavors on TasteSpotting lately (like squid ink and stinging nettle) so I thought I'd try something more adventurous for my first try, rather than plain. However, I didn't have any squid ink lying around so I picked some of the massive leaves that grow on my Valentino basil plant and a few sprigs of dill. My little garden has been doing really well lately, and I'm sure it's glad to finally be put to some use.
I was really surprised at how simple homemade pasta is. It takes a lot of time and work, but the ingredients and process is relatively fool-proof. Here's what I used:

2 c. of all-purpose flour
2 c. semolina flour
pinch of salt
6 eggs
2 tbsp. olive oil
handful of basil and dill, each

First, mix the flours and salt together and make a pile on your nice, clean counter. Then make a hole in the center so the whole thing looks like a powdery volcano. Crack the eggs into the hole and add the olive oil.
I chopped the basil and dill and added it with the olive oil into a food processor and chopped it up really fine (kind of like making pesto). This is what I used instead of straight-up olive oil. (I also added a smidgen more to the volcano in addition to my herb paste.)
Then take a fork and whisk the eggs slowly into the flour that creates the well. At some point it gets thick and then I had to start mashing it up with my hands. It was so messy and so fun.
The part that isn't too much fun is kneading it for about 10 minutes. I don't think I did it for that long, but I made sure it was all smooth and supple before I stopped. Then I wrapped it up tightly in plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes.

After the dough and I were done resting, I took a handful at a time and fed it through the pasta roller at the largest setting. Then it needs to be folded into the thirds and fed through again. The setting is lowered to a thinner setting for thinner pasta. It gets cut in the appropriate slot (one for wide noodles and one for thin noodles). I made the fettuccine on the third largest setting, and the spaghetti 'bird nests' on the fourth (which is pretty thin...and it goes all the way to 6 or something!). That way I got to play around with the entire machine to see how it all did.

Most of the pasta I hung over a conveniently shaped photo holder...but we'll call it a pasta drying rack in this instance. The spaghetti I twirled into nest shapes and put on a cloth placemat to dry.
The rest of the pasta (the scraps, that is...) I threw into a pot of boiling water with some salt. Freshly made pasta takes almost no time at all to be 'done'. It only took a minute for mine, but it's finished when it floats.
As you can see, the results were fantastic! I sprinkled a dash of olive oil on top, grated some of that really nice hard Parmesan cheese, and then topped it with my own mix of dried herbs, and some more of that wonderful Valentino basil.