Bake like you mean it – Bananananana Bread

As Terry Pratchett said, it’s a very hard word to stop once you’ve started.

So.  For Sport Relief here at school we had a bake sale, one that did very well as we have a hugely talented team of bakers.  Cupcakes, cookies, sports-decorated gingerbread men, cookies, brownies, rice crispie cakes, did I mention cookies?  And banana bread.

Now the banana bread was a slow burn.  Problem is, it doesn’t look the most appetizing and it’s not visually grabbing like the Sport Relief cupcakes or the bright red cookies.  But those who did try it loved it.  Therefore, by popular demand, here’s the recipe:

To make 1 big loaf (or a couple of smaller ones) you’ll need:

  • Greased and lined loaf tin/s – No need to line all 4 sides, just do the 2 long sides and the base so you can lift the loaf out once it’s done.
  • 125g soft butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 4 over-ripe bananas, mashed – we cheat here and use a hand mixer to “mash” the bananas.  Works like a charm.  Remember, kids, the really sweet, ripe, bananas are the ones with all the black and brown bits on the skin.  Don’t be revolted because it’s not just on the yellow side of green.
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 250g self raising flour.  Leave this in a bowl on the scales…
  • 1tsp baking powder (you can use plain flour, but you’d then need 3tsp baking powder.  And if you don’t have baking powder it’s 1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda and 1/2tsp cream of tartar to make 1tsp baking powder)
  • Oven set to 160C

Okay.  Lock and load.  This is an easy one.

  1. Mix butter and sugar until you’ve a paste.  You don’t need the full Kenwood butter/sugar->cream here.
  2. Mix in the mashed bananas, the vanilla extract and the eggs.  This gives you a gorgeous lumpy wet mix.
  3. Mix the baking powder into the flour then sieve this over the wet mix in 3 stages, folding in completely after each stage.  You want a mix that is still lumpy, not a silky smooth mush, so don’t over-fold.
  4. Pour into the prepared baking tin.
  5. Bake for an hour for a big loaf, 40 minutes for a pair of small loaves.  Test with a skewer when time’s up, if it comes out clean, it’s done.

I’ve had “issues” with banana bread being really, really, really slow to cook.  The first time I did this it took a good half hour longer (but still tasted great), so if the skewer comes out with batter on it, give it another 10 minutes and test again.  If it looks like the top’s burning, give it a foil hat at this stage.

Leave it to cool for about half an hour to an hour before you take it out of the tin.  Take it out too soon and mine have collapsed into a gorgeous, banana-bready crumbly pile.  If that happens, just add custard and pretend it’s what you meant to do all along.

This recipe has been adapted from the Banana Bread recipe found on page 209 of James Morton’s “Brilliant Bread” – this is the mark 3 for us according to my notes.  I have learned a lot from this book, most especially not to be scared of sourdough.  Get a copy.

#RecipeShed – Keema Aloo (Mince curry with potatos)

Many years ago, my wife (then we were but boyfriend and girlfriend) took me on a trip to Bradford.  We went to the IMAX theatre and saw a couple of movies then went for a curry in what is, for me, the finest curry house in the land: The Kashmir.  You walk past the posh seating area at street level, round the corner onto a side street, down some stairs into the basement.  Formica tables.  Tin plates.  Very plain, very functional and always very busy for a very good reason:  The food is excellent.  We vowed to repeat the trip.

In there, on the next visit, I had my first keema curry.  Rather than lumps of meat, keema dishes are made from mince.  Whenever I get the chance, I go back there for a keema madras, usually tying it in with a visit to what was then the National Museum of Film, Photography and Television and is now a branch of the Science Museum.  Well worth a visit if you get the chance.  2 Daleks, Morph, the Wombles and much, much more.

Anyway.  Fast forward a few years and I’m on a cookery course.  What do we want to cook next week?  I suggest a keema dish, the teacher agrees. I’ve got to say, it’s a dish that starts out very unpromising in looks and then pulls it all out of the bag near the end.  Here you go.

Ingredients:

  • 1lb lean lamb mince (best if you can make it yourself by taking a good slab of shoulder and trimming away as much of the fat as possible).
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder (or paprika if you’re dialling down the heat)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp garlic & ginger paste (equal quantities of garlic and ginger, blitz together in a food processor and add a little vegetable oil.  Keeps for ages so make it up in big batches. You’ll be amazed at how useful it is)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 black cardamom
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 4 green chillies, finely chopped (optional)
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • Large bunch fresh coriander, chopped

Method:

  1. In a large pan, put the mince, onions, salt, red chilli powder (or paprika), turmeric, cinnamon stick, black cardamom and a large glass of water.
  2. Bring to the boil.  Break up the mince with a wooden spoon to make sure there are no lumps.
  3. Put on the lid, simmer for half an hour.  Stir after 15 minutes.
  4. Remove the lid, allow the water to evaporate completely.
  5. Add the tomatoes and a half-ladle of vegetable oil.  Start to fry the mince, adding the chillies (if you’re  using them) and the garlic & ginger paste (for some reason my hands want to type “garlic & finger paste”.  Don’t use that.  That would be wrong).  Fry for 15-20 minutes.  Add a little water if it all starts to stick.
  6. Add the potatoes and keep frying gently for 10 minutes.
  7. Put on the lid, reduce heat to minimum and allow the potatoes to cook.  Usually another 10-20 minutes.
  8. Just before serving, sprinkle over the garam masala and the coriander, stir and remove from the heat.  Serve at once with fresh naans or chapatti.
Until you start the frying at step 5, this dish is plain ugly.  One thing I was told on the course I did:  If you’re cooking a meat curry, you want the onion to be invisible.  If you’re cooking a vegetable curry, cut it generous as you want to see it as an ingredient.  So, the finer you chop the onion, the better – I was given a couple of Kyocera ceramic knives for my birthday this year – I now know what finely chopped looks like.  I also know that if the knife is sharp enough you don’t know you’ve cut yourself until the blood is already staining the chopping board.  These knives show no mercy.  They are truly amazing things.
Now.  Head over to the Recipe Shed and see what amazing things others are doing with mince this week.  And if you know of any other good keema recipes, please send them my way.

Cookalong Friday – Testing the Chefs: Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals #cookalongfriday

Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals

For Christmas, my wife received Jamie Oliver’s book “30 Minute Meals” as a Secret Santa present.  We don’t know exactly who from, but it was an inspired choice.  Since then we’ve been working through those recipes at a rate of 1 a week, usually on a Sunday night.  Do they live up to their claims?  Can you really cook a 2 course meal in 30 minutes?  Yes and sort of.

Preparation

As he says in his introduction, you have to be in the right frame of mind.  The “30 Minute Meal” frame of mind.  You have to set aside distractions, ignore the mountains of rubbish and washing up that build up around you, and you’ve definitely got to own a Magimix.

When you watch the great man at work in the TV programme that accompanies the book (or is it the other way around?) you can see he knows these recipes inside and out.  He could do any one of these meals given the ingredients and the name of the recipe.  My wife spends a good length of time reading and re-reading the recipe so that she only needs the book for reference (for it is usually her cooking whilst I field the kids and generally sous-chef for her on a Sunday).  If you’ve got to go back to the book (and back and back again) you’ll never do it in 30 minutes, as I found out when it was my turn to give one of these a go!

Ingredients

Be warned, cooking these meals will increase the cost of your weekly shop.

After a while you do build up a stock of some of the more common ingredients, and you start thinking about investing in shares in an olive oil company because he uses a lot of it!  Lugs and lugs of it, to use his own terminology.  But there’s usually 1 thing we have trouble getting hold of here on our lonely rock.  He’s got this thing about chicory in salads and I cannot find that for the life of me!  We’ve substituted baby lettuce, Chinese leaves, anything that seemed likely to make a good salad.  And, trust me, the salads in this book are extremely good indeed.  Frozen mango chunks was the last ingredient we couldn’t find.  Neither of the supermarkets up here stocked it, so we subbed in some frozen berries and the ice cream came out just fine.

Portion Size

This is an area where Jamie and I disagree.  Where he says it serves 4, I say it serves my family of 7 comfortably with leftovers to pick at later.  Where he says it serves 6, that’s about right for us.  The only thing we’ve never had leftovers from are the deserts.

T-30 Minutes.  Action!

Right.  This is where the story really starts.  You’ve read through the recipe, you’ve done the preparations he’s suggested in step 1 (fitting the right blade to the Magimix, boiling the kettle, getting a pan on to boil, the usual stuff).  You’re all ready to go.  Now the kids can really help out by either (a) keeping the kitchen tidied or (b) keeping each other occupied in a non-painful way in another room.  Anyone who can stay out of the way of the knifes can help.

Although Jamie Oliver quite happily handles everything on his own on TV, I’m pretty certain there’s a team of underlings bustling around during the cut scenes, the commercial breaks, all helping with the tidying up.  So that’s job 1 you can give to a helper.  Have an area set aside for stuff that’s finished with and get someone monitoring that.  As soon as a bowl, a dish, a wrapper enters that area, get it in the right place.  Load the dishwasher, get it washed up, chuck it in the bin, whatever’s appropriate.  Job 2 is getting the table set and ready.  Having read through the recipe you’ll know what you’re needing in terms of eating irons, so dispatch a helper to get those lined up.  If you can get plates onto the table as well, go for it.  There’s only a few of his meals that serve up directly into plates/bowls.

The Verdict

Is 30 minutes long enough?  More or less, yes.  If you’re prepared, if you’ve got at least 1 helper, if no-one phones and wants to talk about last night’s Doctor Who.  Will your kitchen be a mess at the end of it?  Yep.  Unless you’ve got some extremely good helpers!  We usually manage to keep on top of most of the mess, working directly into the dishwasher.  Are the meals good?  Definitely.  His salads are excellent, his deserts have been requested again and again.  The fact that the entire process is wrapped up in 30 minutes means there’s no lengthy preparation, no “and marinade this for 6 hours prior to cooking”, nothing that complicated.  Do the kids eat them?  Yes.  Yes, yes, yes.  All 5 kids have returned a positive verdict on the meals we’ve cooked.  Where there’s been something they didn’t like, it was one part of the overall dish and nothing to be concerned about.  What’s going to happen when we’ve done the lot?  Ah, there’s an app for that – I downloaded his 20 Minute Meals app to my phone the other day.  It’s rather good!

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