Monday, July 30, 2012

Brown Butter, Brown Sugar, Banana Bread with Milk Chocolate Chips and Almond Butter Swirl

Once again, I found myself with bananas on their way to no man's land. I love banana bread but don't like to make the same thing too often. As you may know, I have played around a bit some other banana bread ideas. 

I love brown butter. I love brown sugar. I think the flavors are rich, comforting and blend well with almost everything so I thought I'd give this a shot. I used my original Banana Bread recipe that my Aunt gave to my Mom, who passed it on to me. I made a few other alterations--I used cake flour to make the texture a bit lighter and buttermilk because I love it. I didn't have any almonds or walnuts on hand and frankly I'm glad I didn't because using the almond butter was a great substitution. I think it really added another layer of flavor to the bread without changing the texture. I was super pleased with the results and Hylton went back for the biggest second helping I've ever seen.

1/2 Cup Brown Butter (1 stick)
1 Cup Brown Sugar
2 Beaten Eggs
3 Ripe Bananas- mashed
1 Cup Cake Flour
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
3 Tablespoons Buttermilk
1 Teaspoon Vanilla
1/2 Cup (or more) Milk Chocolate Chips
2 or 3 Tablespoons Almond Butter
Butter and Cocoa to grease and "flour" the baking pan. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To make the brown butter you need a silver colored or metal bottomed pan. It is hard to judge if you use a non stick, dark pan. Turn burner to medium heat and melt stick of butter, stirring regularly. Cook until the butter turns a rich caramel color. It should render a nutty aroma- amazing!

I got this almond butter at Publix and it is AMAZING! It is so smooth and creamy. They have a plain variety which is great, too. The maple flavor in this is light and not too sweet. 

Beat together the brown butter and the brown sugar with the bananas. Mix well, but don't over mix- there will be lumps from the banana. Add sifted dry ingredients, buttermilk and vanilla. Combine until mostly smooth. Add in almond butter and distribute evenly. Finally, add the chocolate chips. 
Grease the pan with butter and "flour" with the cocoa. You don't have to use cocoa if you don't have any or would rather leave it out. Regular flour works just fine of course.

Bake for an hour. Check with a wooden skewer or toothpick. It should come out almost totally clean. You should be able to see that the bread is still moist but is golden on the outside. Check the top of the bread at about 40 minutes, if it starts to get too golden, you can place a piece of foil over it for the remainder of the cooking time. 

I hope you enjoy it! Happy Dishing!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Hylton's "Proud To Be An American" Citizenship Party—Treats and Sweets

My husband recently obtained his United States Citizenship! It was quite an exciting time for us, so we decided we needed to party! We invited everyone to come to a BBQ full of all-American staples. We had burgers, hot dogs, pulled pork, potato salad, homemade baked beans—but the main attraction was the Treats and Sweets table.
Firecracker Red Velvet Cupcakes

I used the same recipe, as always, for my red velvet cupcakes. Paula Deen's Red Velvet
I found the firecracker decorations at Party City—there weren't quite enough for each cupcake, so I used decorative glitter gel to finish off the rest. I found it at Publix, but you can find it in any baking aisle. 

For the Candy Bar I looked all over for red, white and blue candies. Surprisingly, or not, there are lots of red candies but not nearly as many blue or white. I was able to find a good bit of specialty sweets at Oriental Trading. Fortunately they had quite the array of Stars and Stripes-inspired goodies. I found Liberty Bell Lollipops, Unicorn Swirl Pops, Gummy Stars, flag-wrapped Tootsie Rolls and Gum Balls. They also had some fun temporary tattoos. I also got lucky at Party City where they have a huge candy selection. Not only can you get bags of solid color items, like the blue Sixlets, but they also have loose candy bins. I went through several of them to find blue Pixie Sticks, blue raspberry Air Heads and War Heads. I finished up the shopping at the supermarket and got Hershey's Kisses, Twizzlers, Red Hots and Swedish Fish.

In addition to cupcakes, we had pretzels dipped in white chocolate with fun and festive jimmies (or sprinkles, depending on where you are from). I have made these several times in the past—they are easy and fairly quick to make, just make sure you have plenty of time and room for them to cool in the refrigerator. 
Chocolate Covered Pretzels 
1 bag White Chocolate Chips
1 bag Pretzel Rods
Jimmies/Sprinkles (optional)
Parchment Paper 

You need a double boiler or something similar. I use a medium sized pot and metal mixing bowl and it works just fine. Just make sure the bowl sits steadily over the pot. You don't want it to slip into the hot water.

Lay out your parchment paper over a cooling rack or cookie sheet. You will need something that is easy to transport and will fit easily into the refrigerator. 

Fill the pot with water at least 1/3 of the way. Don't fill it too high, you can burn the chocolate. Bring the water to a light boil. You should see small, rolling bubbles. Place the bowl over the pot and empty the bag of chocolate chips into the bowl. Be careful for the steam the can come out from between the pot and the bowl, try to use a pot holder if it isn't too cumbersome. 

Stir regularly so that the chocolate melts evenly. When the chocolate is completely melted and smooth, tilt the bowl so that you can dip the pretzel rod at least half way into the melted chocolate and twist until fully covered. Move the pretzel to the parchment paper and sprinkle with jimmies or colored sugar, making sure to leave enough space between each pretzel so the chocolate doesn't touch. Move the dipped pretzels to the refrigerator and cool until chocolate is solid. At least an hour. They should come right off of the parchment paper when completely cooled.

Red, White and Blue Strawberries
I also made chocolate dipped strawberries decorated in a pattern that I found on Pinterest. You can follow the same instructions for the pretzels, just substitute the strawberries for the pretzels and get some blue decorative sugar. Put the sugar in a bowl or wide mouth glass. You will need to be able to dip the strawberry 2/3 into the chocolate and 1/3 into the blue sugar so your red, white and blue strawberries will be evenly colored. 

We had a wonderful time celebrating with our family and friends! It was great to have so many people come together for Hylton. The kids could swim and play and the adults had some cornhole competitions in addition to a Citizenship Quiz. We thought it would be fun to see how much people knew about the United States based on the Citizenship Exam that Hylton had to pass (which he did with flying colors, of course). Hylton and I put together a 20-question quiz that guests worked in teams to complete. 

Can You Answer the Questions?

1.  If both the president and Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President?
2. When was the Constitution written?
3. Who was President during WWI?
4. Before Eisenhower was President, he was a General in what war?
5. Name one of the two longest rivers in the United States?
6. What is the name of the National Anthem?
7. Why does the flag have 13 stripes?
8. What are the TWO parts of the U.S. Congress?
9. We elect a US Senator for how many years?
10. What did Susan B. Anthony do?
11. How many justices are on the Supreme Court?
12. Name one right only for United States citizen?
13. How many US Senators are there?
14. What is one responsibility that is only for United States citizens?
15. What is the supreme law of the land?
16. Who does a US Senator represent?
17. Who vetoes bills?
18. The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?
19. What is the name of the Speaker of the House of Representatives now?
20. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?


How did you do?? If you are interested in the answers, I will post them as a comment. Don't cheat! Hope you enjoy some of these goodies at your next shindig. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Celebration: Spanish Style

I was recently in Spain for one of the most fun-filled weddings I have ever attended. I was thrilled to be able to celebrate with our friends and the fact that it was across the pond and the wanderluster in me got to scratch the travel itch, was an awesome bonus. Our friends, Erin and Pat met and fell in love while living in Barcelona and wanted to have their friends and family come celebrate their union, where it all began.

The wedding ceremony was at a gorgeous villa the couple rented, where the family also stayed, in the adorable, sea-side town of Sitges. Only about a 30 minute train ride from Barcelona. Everyone attending the wedding was invited to relax and hang-out at the villa so they had time to get to know one another. 

Erin and Pat own and run a fabulous catering company in Charleston, SC  (Check out Gourmet Bay Catering ) so naturally it was a foodie's dream wedding to attend. Pat (a fabulous chef) was incredible, even making the Welcome Dinner meal for 36 guests, the night before their wedding. Everything was delicious, fresh and perfectly presented. It was a casual dinner, which was a great way for everyone to mingle and get to know one another. It was one of the most fabulous groups of people I have ever had the pleasure to party, or rather fiesta with.

In an effort to make the wedding as 'local' as possible, we decided to browse the nearby flower shops to buy the freshest, prettiest white flowers. I put together this bridal bouquet for Erin, which was sweetly adorned with the handkerchief of her Grandmother, who could not make the trip. We used tulips, calla lilies, roses and waxflower buds.

The Newlyweds! 

In organizing the wedding they thought of everything. After their local officiant (who was muy entertaining) pronounced them man and wife, the guests gathered to toast the bride and groom with some bubbly cava. After a few 'cheers' were clinked, the bride and groom departed the villa for some time alone. 

While the newlyweds were in Barcelona having their professional wedding photos taken, the guests stayed back at the villa to nosh on lite bites and sip more bubbly. After about an hour, a shuttle provided by Erin and Pat, arrived to take the entire wedding party into Barcelona. The reception was at a beautiful restaurant Beltxenea

After dinner, we went to a couple bars and clubs to keep the party going. It was a night full of delicious food, tasty cocktails, excitement and dancing that I will never forget. 

Most of our time in Spain was spent in Sitges. Erin and Pat chose Sitges as the location of their wedding because it was where they spent their summer weekends while living in Barcelona, and I can see why. Sitges is the most welcoming seaside retreat, full of personality while being completely relaxing. 

I quite enjoyed window shopping throughout the town. Some very affordable and delicious treats were found. I was surprised at how far our dollars went in Sitges.

We wanted to have at least a little bit of time to enjoy meandering the streets of Barcelona, so we headed back in the day after the wedding. I can tell you the only down side to the entire trip was the hotel in Barcelona. Do NOT stay at the ME by Melia hotel. Do NOT do it. 

In the markets of Barcelona we found the most beautiful and vibrant foods to photograph. Although, I would have liked to have more time to wander through the market, I thoroughly enjoyed the brief stroll. If only I had purchased some of these delicious looking figs, cherries and apricots! 

As far as where we ate while in Spain, I tried to catalog as much as possible. I'm sure I looked a little kooky snapping pics all over the table, but I didn't care. 

A cute little tapas restaurant on the main strip in Sitges. You can't just can't find a better way to spend an afternoon than sipping cava and noshing on tapas, on an oceanfront promenade.

Another restaurant we dined at a couple of times was called Santa Maria- (on a side note, there were restaurants all in a row called NiƱa, Pinta and Santa Maria which amused me). The Santa Maria served delicious food but it was the Strawberry Cava Sangria that really brought us back. It was light, refreshing with just the right dash of natural sweetness. 

Spicy Octopus and Shaved Jamon on Farmer's bread

The octopus was so deliciously tender and flavorful. The menu read spicy but it was more mild than I had expected. It was well seasoned and perfectly cooked. Some people shy away from octopus because they think it will be chewy or rubbery, but if it is prepared properly it is mild and smoothly textured.

 Coffee at the Santa Maria became a regular stop for us on our strolls around town.
 Fresh from the sea, Paella.

I enjoyed more than a few of the Estrella beers which were available at every restaurant. If you haven't had the chance to try it, you don't have to venture to Spain. You can find it in a lot of beer and wine shops, or even some supermarkets Sates side.
Calamari is popular, so we tried it more than once. I love being in a seaside town and being able to dine on the most local and fresh seafood.

Our last night's dinner in Barcelona was amazing. One of the best meals, ever. I mean ever. I don't know if it was because we were that hungry, or if it was the free-flowing beer and wine- but it was delicious! We ordered family style and enjoyed filet, white beans with garlic and sauteed mushrooms. Everything was cooked to perfection.

Overall, I had an amazing trip. I only wish we could have spent a couple extra days in Spain. I hadn't been since I was 18 so it was a totally different experience this time around. I will most definitely be back, I just won't wait more than a decade to do it!