Category Archives: comfort food

Recipe: A Simple Banana Bread

a loaf of banana bread

a loaf of banana bread

Schatzi: The earliest banana breads seem to have developed during the Twenties and Thirties, with recipes in print by 1933. This coincided with the popularity of baking soda and powder for use in quick breads. During the Twenties and Thirties, both bananas and pineapple were wildly popular, and banana bread was a quick, simple item to bake. It had another resurgence in the Sixties, one appearing in my 1961 Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook, and another five in the 1962 Good Housekeeping Cook Book.

I think of banana bread as a very Sixties and Seventies treat, which is a bit odd because I wasn’t even born yet. But my mother baked it, and there is still a stained recipe card for Banana Bread in the recipe box, one with her younger, more childish handwriting. I can imagine her baking it in high school back in the Sixties, just as she later baked it for us when we were growing up. I remember Mom baking banana bread pretty frequently when I was little, but it seemed like she stopped almost entirely when I was older, though she never did stop saving black bananas in the freezer. We happened to have several nicely brown ones on hand, and I was possessed of a desire to bake some banana bread. click here for the Banana Bread recipe

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Recipe: Varenyky, part 2: Dough

cooked varenyky

cooked varenyky

Schatzi: Since my little Black & Decker food processor crapped out, I ended up making the dough in our Kitchen-Aid, but it still turned out fine. The dough was really easy to work with; Eli called it “beautiful,” and speculated on further uses for it. It rolled out like a dream on my floured butcher-block surface, only sticking to the pin once or twice. We used an empty small Adam’s Peanut Butter jar to cut out the circles, Eli taking over cutting out after the first batch. This was a great activity for us as a couple; usually one or the other of us is in the kitchen, but it was great working as a team to cut and fill our varenyky. Because we were so busy getting them cut, filled, and sealed before the dough dried out, I didn’t take any pix of that process. next time! I might use a slightly larger cutter when making them again, since there was not a lot of room for filling, but that also might be something that comes with experience. While we frantically cut and filled, I had water boiling away on the stove. click here for the Varenyky Dough recipe and techniques!

Recipe: Varenyky, part 1: Fillings

blueberry filling cooking

blueberry filling cooking

Schatzi: One of the things I most enjoy about the Orthodox holiday feasts is branching out and trying new, exotic recipes and techniques. Honestly, it was cooking for Orthodox dinners that got me out of my baking rut; before we started having these dinners, I baked cakes and cookies, and pretty much nothing else. I rarely if ever cooked with meat, but my first Orthodox Christmas, I made Chicken Kiev. It turned out very well, giving me the confidence to continue branching out, and since then, I have made all kinds of things, for Orthodox feasts and everyday cooking.

One personal bete noir for me has always been dough. It was always my mother’s job to make and roll out the gingerbread dough at Christmas, and my older sister Malia’s job to bake fantastic pies, so I avoided any dough that needed to be rolled out. One Thanksgiving in high school, I tried baking a molasses crust pumpkin tart, and burst into tears when trying to roll the dough out for the crust. Mom took over, and it turned out beautifully, but I hadn’t touched a rolling pin since then. However, Maiya got me a beautiful Sil-Rol French-style rolling pin for this past Christmas, and I would have felt awful if I never used it. This Orthodox Easter, I was determined to make varenyky.

You may also know them as vareniki, kalduny, pyrohy, or pierogi; the filled dumplings are ubiquitous in Eastern European food, both sweet and savory. There are differences between the many varieties, but essentially they are thin dough dumplings filled with a variety of meats, cheeses, or fruits. As usual, I followed recipes from Please to the Table, making minor adjustments as needed, although I completely winged the blueberry recipe. To save time on Easter morning (though dinner was not scheduled until five), I made two fillings the night before, potato-cheese and blueberry. Since potatoes were not widespread in Ukraine until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I used a purple-topped turnip and two Yukon Golds, which made a tasty filling. I waited til just before making the dough to cook the onions, and simply folded the refrigerated seasoned cheesy potato-turnip mixture into the hot butter and onions, which warmed it up perfectly for the filling process. click here for varenyky filling recipes!

Sunday Sauce a la Dean Ween

our Sunday Sauce

our Sunday Sauce, all served up

Schatzi: About a year ago, someone on Reddit submitted Dean Ween’s recipe for Sunday Sauce, and I fell in love. At the time, however, I was living with Jon & Maiya, and the latter disapproves of pork being cooked in her kitchen, so I had to wait a while to try it. Quite a while, as it turns out. I passed the link on to Eli, who also loved it, and we began making plans to spend a day making Sunday Sauce. But then we both kind of forgot about it. However, we both had this last Friday evening off, and we decided to stay in and finally make Sunday Sauce!

I have really mixed feelings about posting this because there’s an unspoken code in my family regarding recipes. Basically, you never tell anyone the whole truth when it comes to cooking because the best meals are improvised and you couldn’t tell it on paper anyway. You have to adjust on the fly, using your senses—your eyes, your nose, your experience, and most importantly your mouth. If it looks and tastes fucked up then it is fucked up. Basically, if you don’t know what good food tastes like, you will be throwing darts when you try and cook. (Continue reading Dean Ween’s recipe here.)

click here for our notes on Sunday Sauce, plus plenty of pix!

Date Bars

date bars

date bars

Schatzi: I can and will wax rhapsodic about Liliha Bakery (Coco Puffs! Hot cross buns! The pancakes! Real ice cream sodas!), and I go every time I have the chance, but I can also try like fun to replicate their recipes at home. Particularly since they’re roughly three thousand miles away from me at the moment.

One of my favorite treats from Liliha Bakery are their date bars. They are a humble treat, a bit homely and simple, but luscious and richly sweet;. They are sold in a homely package consisting of a paper tray in a plastic sack, and are dark, thumb-sized bars dusted with confection sugar, and at first site are rather unprepossessing. But once you put them in your mouth–! These are not a bar cookie like a lemon bar, with a crust and filling;they’re almost more confection than cookie, really. In fact, I’ve never seen anything like them elsewhere.
click here for more pictures and a Date Bar recipe!

quick Coq au vin

my first effort at coq au vin

my first effort at coq au vin

Schatzi: There are probably as many recipes for coq au vin as there are cooks, it being one of the twentieth century’s popular recipes. (We can probably assign a large portion of the blame for that to Julia Child.) According to my Larousse, “In traditonal stock farming, cocks which were good breeders were kept as long as they could fulfil their function. They would be several years old before they were killed and therefore needed long and slow braising in a casserole (coq au vin). Nowadays, coq au vin is usually made with a chicken or hen.” This development is great for many of us, since it’s not that easy to find a rooster suitable for coq au vin in your average supermarket, though it is worth trying to find a stewing chicken. Though the dish’s popularity skyrocketed in the Sixties, the Food Timeline dates the recipe only to 1913, though it is generally acknowleged to have been around long before then.

I found my recipe in the Oregonian’s FoodDay in the late winter/early spring of 2007, and made it for my then-boyfriend who praised it inordinately. I’ve made it a couple times since then, always sans mushrooms, sometimes with skins, and it has always been delicious. I’m especially fond of the little steamed potatoes, which after seasoning are tasty little bombs of potato-y goodness. Steam the potatoes while the coq simmers; I use my trusty and ancient rice cooker for perfect potatoes.

Unlike the FoodDay (which I can’t link you to because I cannot find it on their site), I added celery to mine for an earthier flavor. I also use wine almost exclusively, rather than the insipid wine and chicken broth combination they favored. I usually just dump the bottle in, reserving a generous glassful for myself. If the chicken isn’t quite covered, then I top it off with broth. Excellent leftovers will result, so plan on eating it for a few days.

my most recent coq au vin

my most recent coq au vin

click here for the Coq au vin recipe and more pictures!

Gung Hee Fat Choy! and a Butter Mochi recipe, too!

butter mochi

butter mochi

Schatzi: Okay, so the new year actually started on Monday, but who’s counting? One of the best ways to ensure good luck in the new year is to eat sweets as part of your celebrations, and for that purpose I submit to you a Butter Mochi recipe.

If you’re not familiar with mochi, it is a cake made from glutinous rice that has been soaked, cooked, pounded into a paste, and then formed into shapes. (Incidentally, if you’ve ever wondered who has the time to do this, just look at the moon. There’s a rabbit up there, pounding mochi. You can see him without even looking too hard.) Mochi comes in many varieties, and is used for many Japanese confections, like manju, chichi dango, and daifuku (one of my favorites is yomogi daifuku). Mochi also has many relatives in other Asian cuisines such as gau, and suman and bibinka, in China and the Philippines, respectively. I’m especially fond of the Okinawan sweet potato mochi.

Mochi is one of those things that has changed a lot over the past century, as people in Hawaii have adapted it to tastes and available products. It’s easy to find recipes for peanut butter mochi, chocolate mochi, pumpkin mochi–whatever! One of the most popular of the “new wave” mochis is butter mochi, which is a coconut custard-like baked mochi. It’s very simple, but rich and sweet. I grew up making butter mochi (among other varieties–microwave gau, anyone?); where the Mainland girls I read about in books made chocolate chip cookies or fudge, my friends and I loved making butter mochi. It’s a very sticky, gooey treat, with a rich sweetness and faintly coconut flavor.

The ingredients are simple enough, but I suggest scouting a local Asian market for the mochiko  (sweet rice flour) if it’s hard to find. It’s only a $1.49 at some marts here, but more than double that at Fred Meyer–when I can find it! The batter will look like a liquidy yellow cake batter and fill the pan almost completely, but don’t worry, because it won’t rise very much. It puffs up a bit as it bakes, but deflates as it cools. There are any number of butter mochi recipes online, and most are fairly similar, with only slightly varying proportions. This recipe can take anywhere from 1.5 to 2.25 cups of sugar, depending on your sweet tooth. You can cut out a teaspoon of vanilla, even, if you want the coconut flavor to shine. Another popular variation is to top the mochi with shredded coconut before baking. I never bother.

click to read the Butter Mochi recipe!