Tag Archives: Let’s Cook

Could The Humble Banana Bread Generate This Much Interest?

By Lakshmi:

As a recent subscriber to Bon Appetit magazine, I’m loving the armchair journeys that I get to take to kitchens, dishes and places around the world.  I was thumbing halfway through the March issue when I glanced at a title that said, “A Slice of Paradise.”  The byline was “Twelve hours in coach for a loaf of banana bread.”  It took me seconds to be transported to Maui from the comfort of my home.  Once there, I discovered the magic created in so many places across the island by that humble combination of locally abundant bananas, sugar, eggs and oil.

Andrew McCarthy’s prose made me want to sample every kind available.  Why were you so late writing this Andrew?  We were in Maui twice and missed this local treasure.  On a day long trip on the Road to Hana, Julia’s banana bread would have added that perfect start to our day.

Julia’s roadside stand sells some of the best banana bread on the island.  Given that an actual meeting with Julia’s concoction may not happen for some time, I decided to pay her a virtual reality visit – I baked a loaf of her famous banana bread from the recipe provided in the article.

The bread was scrumptious.  Crisp on the outside, soft flecks of banana creating a mosaic like landscape on the interior.  A bread that was more indulgent and rich than the many dozens I had baked in the past.

I was not alone in my reaction to the article.  A quick web search revealed a legion of travelers and bakers opining on the merits and demerits of the bread….I discovered an entire discussion thread on Tripadvisor talking about the taste differences between various types of bananas.

If you’d like to escape to McCarthy’s Maui, you can read his article here:

http://bonapp.it/U9VdLE

Julia’s Banana Best Bread recipe can be found here:

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/julias-best-banana-bread

PS:  The picture featured in this article is my output of Julia’s recipe:)

Can A Simple Combination Of Pasta And Veggies Create Something This Divine?

By Lakshmi:

Anyone who has ever stepped into a Cheesecake Factory will vouch for the fact that indecision over what to order from appetizers to entres to desserts is tour de rigueur.  For us vegetarians, it is a bit of a blessing that the choices are more restrictive.  It is from this  more limited menu option that we decided to order Evelyn’s Favorite Pasta.  The description was mouth-watering.

“Penne Tossed with Broccoli, Oven-Dried Tomato, Roasted Eggplant, Peppers, Artichoke, Kalamata Olives, Garlic and Pine Nuts.”

After a non stop eating expedition visiting family and friends in DC, none of us was particularly hungry.  So a single dish of Evelyn’s Favorite Pasta was scooped up by five of us, leaving not a single morsel on the plate.  What was it about the dish that made it so delicious?  The richness of olive oil infused with sautéed garlic, the crunchiness of the pine nuts, the rich flavors of the oven roasted veggies blending in with the saltiness of the olives all melded to create a sensory experience which lingered long after the meal was over.

A few weeks later, sitting in my kitchen in New Jersey on a cold, wintry day, I craved for this pasta.  I did not want to drive, I did not want to wait in line, I wanted it now.

So, out came the ingredients from the pantry.  I had no penne, but my beautiful batch of bow tie pasta seemed to be the perfect substitute.  I heated up some extra virgin olive oil and on a lark decided to throw in some red pepper flakes to perk up the dish.  In went some crushed garlic and roasted pine nuts and the kitchen was already smelling heavenly.  I picked up some previously roasted eggplant bits, pulled out some sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, a small can of chopped black olives, some sliced orange peppers and a few quickly blanched broccoli flowerets.  A swish here, a turn there and behold……what emerged in the pan was this absolutely beautiful pasta dish that tasted like a million bucks.  And that’s the picture at the top of this post.

Since then, the dish has become a staple in our household and Evelyn has been relegated to the back room while Lakshmi has taken over:)

If you’ve experienced the joy of recreating a restaurant favorite in your own home, we would love to hear about your agony and ecstasy in getting there.

Baklava – A Little Piece Of Happiness In Every Layer

By Lakshmi:

Baklava – The very word conjures up beautiful images in my mind.

– Delicate layers of flaky phyllo dough encasing a filling of sweetened nuts drizzled with a sugar/honey syrup flavored with cardamom or orange blossom

– The joy on people’s faces as they savor their first bite followed by the myriad of expressions that follow on discovering the filling and the melding of flavors.

– The little crumbs sticking over your lips and potentially clothing, making you a bit angry that you could not eat more neatly and yet you have no regrets over devouring something so sinful.

– The excuse to have yet another cup of your favorite beverage (coffee) to balance your palate

Ok…how’s that for waxing eloquence on one of my favorite desserts?

Since its debut in the 8th century BC in ancient Assyrian civilization, more people have fought over rights to creating Baklava than patent contests in the modern world.  Regardless of  its origin, we know that it is a dessert enjoyed with a cup of coffee in Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Armenia, Egypt and more.

Since my very first bite at Lebanese Taverna in the Washington DC area, discovering the varieties of Baklava around the world has been joyful.  The phyllo has been a staple, while the fillings have varied from walnut and pistachios to caramelized milk and more modern versions with chocolate.  I have had cab drivers from the Middle East argue the merits of their native Baklava, discrediting others as imitations and proving that the dish is worthy of national debate!

Favorite memories include savoring the dessert at Bacchus and Lebanese Taverna in the DC area, at Karakoy Gulluoglu in Istanbul, at a small unknown stall near Plaka in Athens, at a roadside eatery in Egypt….and the list goes on and on!

I am proud to claim that not only have I eaten my weight in Baklava during our global travels, but I have also experimented making it with success in my own kitchen.  And to many a naysayer who calls making Baklava a laborious process that’s not worth the calories, I retort and say, it’s pretty simple and totally worth it.

If you’d like to ever overcome your fears to try making Baklava, the simple illustration beautifully created by the website www.theydrawandcook.com should be all you need to get started.  Happy foraging for Baklava!

Baklava