Sunday, February 8, 2009

Persimmon bread

I read a lot of food blogs, and in nearly every one, every winter, there is the rainy/snowy day, curl up on the couch under hand-knitted/quilted blankets with ridiculously cute dog/cat while drinking a mug of hot coffee/tea/hand-harvested stone-ground chocolate and eating assorted sweet breads/muffins/cookies/feats of sculptural bakery. And they claim to stay there all afternoon.

I'll admit it, I'm jealous. An entire afternoon! Time to layer mini cakes with home-canned jam. To knit scarfs that will be ready to sling around cold necks this winter, not next. To watch my children frolic in an adorably artistic pile on the vintage hardwood.

My afternoons are much more of the rush home from work and prevent the child from licking electrical cords variety. And if they weren't, I'd probably still skip the baking and head for the couch and the latest Michael Connelly mystery. (Which is where I've been the last week, for those who wondered.)

As for winter baking, I make endless versions of the following persimmon bread, break out the cream cheese, and call it good. Because this is one of those rare sweet baked things that can be totally over-stirred, it's easy to make with an enthusiastic toddler.

I pick persimmons from my parents' house at Christmastime, let them ripen into mush, whiz in the food processor, and freeze flat in Ziploc freezer bags. For this bread, pumpkin puree works great too, even better if that slightly astringent, squeaky persimmon flavor turns you off.

Persimmon Bread with Walnuts and Cranberries

1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 t. baking soda
3/4 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. ground nutmeg
1/4 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. salt

2 eggs
1/3 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup persimmon (or pumpkin) puree
1/2 canola oil
1 t. vanilla

1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup frozen cranberries (not defrosted)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

Whisk together dry ingredients in one bowl. Whisk wet ingredients together in another, add to dry, and whisk until blended. Stir in walnuts and cranberries. Pour dough into prepared pan.

Bake in the middle of oven about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until it feels firm when you poke at the top with your finger and a toothpick or wooden skewer jabbed through the middle comes out clean. Cool completely.

Instead of walnuts and cranberries, try chocolate chips, pumpkin seeds, coconut, whatever you've got on hand. It's all tasty. The recipe also doubles easily, so you can snack on one loaf all week and freeze the other for later.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Not-so-solitary spaghetti

Now that the baby has morphed into a toddler, my secret single spaghetti has become pasta with a side of potty talk. There's not really much you can do to put a positive hipster spin on that one, but I have taught the child to spin and slurp spaghetti, which delights me and horrifies my husband. (EDITED TO ADD: At lunch today, he taught her to drape spaghetti over her forearm and then nibble it off, so I've got nothing.)

When W. is at class late, the baby and I put together a quick pasta, as a team. She cuts the butter with a butter knife, then picks it up and gnaws on the stick when she thinks I'm not looking. I heat the water and chop garlic, herbs, and whatever veggie we have on hand. She tosses ingredients into the pan, we stir together.

And in the rush to prep quickly with a not-so-helpful helper, I've hit on a formula for awfully good pasta that uses what you've got:

Fast anything-goes pasta

Put a pot of water on to boil for pasta. Don't forget to salt it, liberally. Prep your ingredients while you wait for it to boil. When the water is ready, dump in a half pound of pasta and begin to make your sauce.

Put the following in a large saucepan and heat on medium low:

a couple cloves garlic, minced
a couple tablespoons parsley (or other herbs)
a small shake red chili flakes
a couple glugs olive oil (or a mixture of olive oil and butter to equal a couple tablespoons)

When the garlic is sizzling, add about a 1/4 cup of chicken broth. (I freeze my homemade stock in ice cube trays, and just throw in three cubes.) Turn up heat to medium, bring to a simmer, and add some sort of protein.

I like to do one of the following:
garbanzo beans
white beans
slivered almonds
slivered salami
pine nuts

A couple minutes before the pasta is done, toss a vegetable in the boiling water (broccoli florets; chicory, spinach, kale, or chard ribbons; small potato cubes; whatever). Or you can roast a vegetable in the oven by tossing with olive oil and salt and blasting it at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes. Obviously, if you do this, you need to start the roasting process at the beginning of your prep.

Drain pasta when it's very very al dente, toss with sauce (and roasted veggies if you are going that route). Continue to simmer a minute or so, until pasta is done and sauce is largely absorbed. I like mine a little juicy.

Top with cheese. Finely grated parm or pecorino romano are good, as are aged cheddar, blue cheese, feta...
The photos show a broccoli/almond spaghetti and a roasted cauliflower/garbanzo fusilli, but this is one of those recipes that are born of that delicate balance between what sounds good and what is in the fridge. It is often delicious, but I've had my failures--frozen stir fry mix plus blue cheese anyone?