Sunday, January 13, 2008

Banana Bonanza

I am not a banana eater, never have been. I used to keep them in the house all the time when the kids were around. I would smash them up when they were babies, chunk them as they got older, and then whole bananas were the thing to have for son who played soccer. Whenever there were brown/black bananas I would make banana bread, always a favorite around my house. But lately we don't see too many bananas. Last time I baked banana bread for the butchers, my son asked if I could do it more often. I told him if he brought me home the rotten bananas from the store that I would be happy to do so. Well, he took me at my word and on Monday he brought home about 20 pounds of bananas. Really, no kidding. The kitchen reeked of bananas.

Since there were plenty of bananas, I decided to branch out and try something new first. So I chose a banana/oatmeal scone. The butchers really liked the pumpkin scones I made in October, so I figured I could get away with something similar. I whipped up a double batch but the scones looked a bit boring in color and texture, so I scoured the cupboards to see what I could add. I had dried cranberries, five kinds of nuts, little caramel balls, but ultimately decided half should be chocolate chip and half should be with crystallized ginger. Chocolate makes anything better, and chocolate-covered bananas are really tasty. I love the tang of ginger, and used chopped crystallized ginger in the pumpkin scones to great satisfaction. In both cases, biting into them would yield a little mouth surprise, either sweet or refreshingly tart.

The recipe took very little time and yielded quite a lot, given the fact that I cut each batch in half and made smaller scones. Better for my waistline and easier for the butchers to grab and eat.

Banana/Oatmeal Scones

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups old fashioned rolled oats (I used 1-minute oats)
1/2 cup margarine, melted (you could use butter)
1/3 cup soy milk, plain or vanilla (regular milk will also work)
1 ripe mashed banana (I added 1 ½ mashed banana)
Optional additions: chocolate chips, chopped crystallized ginger, walnuts, pecans….

Combine dry ingredients; set aside. Blend mashed banana, melted margarine, and soy milk until fairly smooth. Add in dry ingredients and optional item and mix just until moistened. Pour out onto floured board. Incorporate more flour if dough is too sticky. Cut dough in half and roll or pat each half into a circle, about 7-8 inches around. Cut into 8 wedges. Place on silpat or oiled baking sheet. Bake 425 for about 10 minutes, until light golden brown.

Two days later, I made three loaves of my favorite banana bread. I added walnuts to two of the loaves and chocolate chips to the third. Needless to say, the basket came back empty from the butcher boys.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

'Tis the Season…for Crab!

While there has been a slight delay in crabbing season here in the Bay Area, due to the unfortunate crash of the Cosco Busan into the Bay Bridge in early November. The resulting oil spill endangered the season, but after due diligence and clearance from the Department of Fish and Game, crabbers started hauling in loads in early December. Per our annual tradition, we bought our fair share to eat on New Year's Eve, with a bit reserved for crab cakes on New Year's Day. The boys up at the meat department at Roberts of Woodside chose three nice juicy ones, which they kindly cleaned and cracked for me. (Thanks Will!)

We have typically eaten the crab in the simplest fashion: Cover the table in newspaper, ice down the crab in a big bowl, make some garlic butter and homemade cocktail sauce, and go to town…with a bit of sourdough on the side. The table is quiet, lips smacking as fingers pull the crabmeat out. We gorge ourselves, licking our fingers long after our tummies have told us to stop. While little compares to this little ritual, I chose a slightly different route this year.

What seems like a lifetime ago, we made a weekend foray up to St. Helena to do some wine tasting, staying over in a B&B in Calistoga. On the suggestion of my brother, we had made advance reservations at what was at that time a newish restaurant called Tra Vigne. The menu was overwhelming to us, but the one dish that stood out, something I had not seen on a menu before, was the Garlic Roasted Crab. It was a whole crab, which I couldn't quite finish on my own, that was heavenly. Warm, with browned bits of garlic on each piece, it was one of my more memorable meals. I have yet to get back there, or duplicate the recipe myself, but recently I found the instructions for it in the SF Chronicle. Hallelujah!

Simple with few ingredients and quick to prepare, it is worth the extra time (and the extra finger licking!). Since crab will be available for awhile longer, I heartily recommend you try this out. You will not be sorry. And if you feel really inspired, pick up Michael Chiarello's "The Tra Vigne Cookbook," which also has this recipe. I know you will find some tasty recipes in that one.

We used fresh Meyer lemons from our yard, which are late coming in this year, and in abundance, as well as some Meyer lemon sea salt that I made earlier this year. Added just a bit more flavor, IMHO.

Roast Garlic Crab

6 T unsalted butter
6 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T minced garlic
4 Dungeness crabs (about 1.5 pounds apiece), cooked, cracked and cleaned
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ c finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Heat the butter, oil and garlic in very large ovenproof sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot. (You may need 2 pans.) Add the crab, season to taste with salt and pepper and toss well. Transfer to the oven and roast until the garlic turns light brown and the crab is heated through—about 12 minutes—tossing halfway through the cooking process. Pour crab into a large warm serving bowl, add the lemon juice and parsley and toss well.

A bonus for me was getting to serve the crab in my new red oval oven pot, a Christmas present from Electrician Son (who is currently sunning himself in Hawaii).