Banana bread with a twist

I’ve been slowly accumulating overripe bananas in the freezer, waiting for an adequate supply (3) for banana bread. I have tried a bunch of recipes in the past, but none have been particularly memorable.

This weekend, I took this recipe (originally from Mark Bittman) for a spin, and it worked out great. The key is the addition of shredded coconut, which adds both flavor and texture. I also added 1/4 tsp of cinnamon for a bit more flavor.

Highly recommended if you’re looking for a new take on banana bread.

It’s always hard to be sure when these kind of breads are done. I cook to an internal temperature of about 200 °F.

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6 or 6 Plus

I bought the original iPhone on launch day in 2007, and upgrading has become an annual ritual for me.  Each model has been enough of an advancement that the only decision has been which color and capacity to get. This year’s decision is more complex: with the iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus, many people including myself have agonized over the options.

My first thought was to just go for the 6. It’s relatively close in size to the 5 and 5S, which have worked well for me for the last several years. While not as big as the 6 Plus, the screen is larger. It’s a model within my comfort zone. Besides, haven’t I spent the last several years snickering to myself whenever I saw someone holding up a massive Samsung or other similar device to the side of their head?

Yet I am drawn to the promise of the 6 Plus. It’s so much larger than the 5 series that it’s almost a different category.  It has nearly 3 times the number of pixels. When the iPhone first came out, it was a fancy phone that also had  a number of other interesting functions. Now the iPhone is a pocket computer that happens to be able to make phone calls. In fact, I recently took the phone app out of my dock (it’s current filled with Mail, Safari, Overcast and Tweetbot). For modern usage including reading (mail, web, apps, etc.), videos, photos, a larger screen is optimal.

But the 6 Plus is not a straightfoward decision either. At some point, a phone will be too big. Too big to comfortably use, too big to fit in pockets, too big to take everywhere. I thought about the key characteristics for form factor that were important to me. These boiled down to portability and usability.

Portability: the phone needed to be easy enough to carry that it would always be with me. I enjoy the iPad Mini greatly, but it’s not always with me. Many times, I’ll sit down to read and won’t be able to locate the iPad, so I will just end up using my phone. I refuse to go back to using a holster or wearing a jacket just to carry my phone. It needs to fit in my front pockets.

Usability: If the phone is too big to comfortably use in my hands, it’s not worth the increased screen real estate.

So I did what any sensible person would do: I made cardboard mockups of the two devices. I only needed the larger mockup since the 6 is so close to the 5S. It fit, albeit barely in some cases, into my pants pockets without being even partially exposed, so it would pass the first test. Testing usability was harder without the real device, so I turned to comments from friends and people online who have used these devices. The general consensus is that these larger devices require some adjustment to handle (often requiring two handed use), but that any inconvenience is outweighed by the increased screen real estate.

Lastly, there is the novelty factor. The iPhone 6 is a slightly larger iPhone. The 6 Plus really is a new device category, sitting somewhere between a one-handed compact smartphone and a small tablet. The only way to really know if this will be a worthwhile trade off of usability and functionality is to live with it.

So I went with the 6 Plus. I don’t think the iPhone 6 is the wrong choice. It is certainly safer. But I’m all for trying something different this time around.

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Fast pulled pork

Over the years, I have become a fan of pulled pork. While store bought versions can end up soggy and mushy, a good pulled pork has a deep flavor and is tender while still having an identifiabe meaty texture.

You can easily make several versions of pulled pork at home, but to obtain that characteristic tenderness, a long cooking time is needed.

Sometimes, you go through the process of sending your pork shoulder and vacuum sealing it only to discover that your sous vide machine has died (I am sure you’ve all been there). Is dinner ruined?

When faced with this very situation, I turned to a relatively new standby: the pressure cooker. I cut up 3 pounds of pork into chunks of a couple inches and marinated it in:

1.5 tbs light brown sugar
2 tsp fennel seed
2 tsp granulated garlic
2 tsp smoked salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
3/4 tsp mustard powder

This all went into the pressure cooker with 400 cc of water (the pressure cooker always needs water to generate the steam pressure). I brought the cooker up to high pressure and cooked for 45 minutes, the left to naturally release.

The pork went onto a rack for a quick broil while I reduced the remaining liquid. I pulled (mashed) the pork with a couple forks and folded in some of the reduced liquid. Great on some fresh baguettes with a bit of barbecue sauce.

Was the texture as good as a 12 hour sous vide? Not really, but it was close, and a lot faster.

Peach galette

Peach galette

Summer fruits are great for transforming into desserts. One of my favorite new discoveries is galette, which is essentially a simple rustic tart. They are easy to make, and go great with a range of fruits. Peaches seem bountiful these days, so I whipped up a peach galette.

Start by making your favorite pie dough. I like the Cooks Illustrated foolproof pie dough.  When ready to roll out, preheat the oven to 350°F and grab a mixing bowl and combine:

  • about a pound (450g) of sliced peaches
  • 1 tablespoon starch (cornstarch or tapioca)
  • 50g of sugar

Roll the pie dough out to 12 inches and move to a parchment-covered baking sheet. Spread out the peaches in the center, mounding slightly in the middle. Leave a 2-3 inch rim of crust around the perimeter. Fold up the perimeter and make securely patch any breaks in the crust. Brush with a beaten egg and sprinkle sugar over the exposed crust.

It will be done in after about an hour in the oven. Let it cool completely (ideally 2+ hours) before digging in, since the filling needs to set.

Bean rolls

Bean rolls

Since my bread-baking obsession took over, I seem to have a lot of extra bread dough around looking for a good use. After making more pita dough than I needed, I decided to mix it up with some leftovers. I flattened out 130g of the dough into a circle about 1/4 inch thick and added in some leftover black beans and a few pieces of gruyere. I then sealed the dough into a ball and baked it at 375° F for 15 minutes to make a bean-filled roll that I took to work.

Before lunch, I reheated the roll at 300 degrees in an office toaster oven. The result? Pretty tasty and a handy way to use leftovers. In the future, I’ll try reheating at a higher temperature and maybe for a few minutes longer so the interior gets warmer.

Judging by the thick mound of dough at the base, I could also benefit from rolling out the dough a bit thinner and covering a smaller area so that the top doesn’t get stretched out as much. The result is reminiscent of a calzone, but of course the fillings are quite different.

Sous vide brisket

Sous Vide Brisket at 140° F

After my previous attempts at sous vide brisket yielded a brittle, dry meat that was enjoyable only after being heavily drenched in barbeque sauce, I tried again with several modifications. I brined the brisket for a couple hours in a 4% salt and 3% sugar solution, rinsed the meat, and sealed it up. I cooked it at 140° F for 2 days. The results were for superior. While it’s still not my favorite cut, it was pleasant to eat, with good flavor and structure.

I could have arguably gotten away with tenderizing it even more by cooking it for an additional day, perhaps using a lower temp. Brisket varies a good deal from cut to cut, so your results may vary.

Either way, it’s great on a homemade baguette:

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Breakfast buns after baking. One cinnamon sugar for the 7 year old.

Overnight No-Kneed Breakfast Rolls

There’s a local bakery chain in Boston called Flour. One of my favorite items is their breakfast sandwiches. Going out for breakfast, however, is a challenge when you don’t live close to said bakery and you have two young children.

I’ve long sought to replicate the experience at home. Fortunately, my recent experiences with pizza dough have made it much easier to reproduce these treats. I’ll go through the fillings in a subsequent post, but the rolls are dead simple to make. You’ll need a pizza peel (or the back of a baking sheet), parchment paper, and a baking stone in your oven. If you don’t have a baking stone, you can probably get away with just cook these on a baking sheet, but you may have to cook them a bit longer.

This recipe makes 4 rolls, but feel free to scale up or down as needed.

The night before you intend to eat these, mix the following ingredients in a bowl (choose one big enough to allow room for more than doubling):

  • 280g bread flour (I like Caputo 00, but you can use whatever is convenient; even AP will do in a pinch)
  • 1/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 196g room temperature water

Mix the dry ingredients together then add in the water. With a spoon, stir the mixture until all the flour is absorbed, but you don’t have to kneed the dough. The gluten will develop on its own. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature overnight.

Preparing for tomorrow's breakfast with @asciirun

The next morning, place a piece of parchment paper on a pizza peel (the back of an overturned baking sheet will do if you don’t have one). Brush the surface with a thin coating of olive oil. Preheat your oven to 375 °F, turning on convection if you have it. If you have a baking stone or baking steel (I use the latter), make sure you give your oven adequate time to warm up (at least 30 minutes).

Turn out the dough onto a floured countertop and divide into four equal portions. The dough will be wet, so leave some extra flour around to dust the dough as needed. Fold each piece down while rotating it in your hands so the dough forms a ball with the folds connecting at the bottom. You should be able to accomplish this with about four quarter-turns of the dough. The idea is you want the out surface of the dough to be stretched to help the dough ball keep its shape.

As you finish each roll, place it on the parchment paper. When you are done, brush each lightly with olive oil. For a sweet version (my son loves these), you can then take some of these rolls and toss them gently in a bowl with cinnamon sugar (e.g. 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 4 teaspoons sugar, mixed well) before returning to the parchment.

Breakfast buns before...

Use the peel to shuttle the parchment paper onto the baking stone/steel and cook for 15 minutes. The internal temperature should be above 200° F. Let the rolls cool on a baking rack, ideally for around 30 minutes, though I’ve been known to be impatient.

Cut the rolls in half horizontally and make a sandwich of your choosing (e.g. egg, tomato, bacon). The cinnamon sugar version is great with cream cheese.