Monday, 18 February 2008

Hearts and bananas

Lisa has noticed that I didn’t blog about Valentine’s Day, and was curious since I’d told her we were planning a meal where we both contributed a dish which made us think of each other (I know, pass the bucket, but we liked it). The reason I didn’t write about it was partly because I didn’t want to publicise the fact that we do cute things on this horribly schmaltzy day, but also because I was so hectic with writing my paper that I sort of reneged on my part of the plan. However, this really means that I should definitely write about it as The Scientist took on the whole challenge himself and made a lovely meal. So, here’s how we subverted the evil marketing machine that is Valentine’s day in our house:

For a starter: crostini with mozzarella and sundried tomatoes, and mozzarella and marinated courgette (an old favourite, cemented by the fact that I went on a work trip to Florence very early in our relationship, and The Scientist joined me there for a weekend. His commitment is illustrated in the fact that he put his nemesis courgette on some of them for me). This was accompanied by a cocktail (I’d managed to organise myself that far): a ‘Pick Me Up’ which sounded appropriately suggestive, and was also pink. It contained grenadine (home made, no less – thanks to Cupcake Project again), brandy, orange juice and sparkling wine, and was really nice, though strangely not as pink as I’d expected.

Main course: pea and broad bean risotto. I adore risotto, and I had shown The Scientist how to make it one time, so he thought that was appropriate. I taught him well – it was really yum.

Dessert: I thought I was really going to have to cop out and rely on Mssrs M&S, but in the end I whipped up a quick and easy upside down apple pie cake from Cooking done Light. The original was a pear and ginger one, but The Scientist particularly likes apples. The ‘light’ was an attempt not to lavish calories all over the place, and it was definitely a bit less sweet that you might hope for in a celebratory dessert. I can’t really fault the recipe for that, but the base (once you’d inverted it) was also a little stodgy. I might add a bit more liquid next time. It was still nice though – we had it with a bit of Greek yogurt, and we were pretty full by then anyway! I suspect that I didn’t do the recipe justice as its author said it was a new favourite of hers.

I didn’t take any photos because I wasn’t sufficiently organised, but we had a lovely night, and I got tipsier on the cocktails than I’d been for a very long time! And the total contribution to the Valentines economy: two Bramley apples, a couple of bread rolls, a ball of mozzarella, a bottle of sparkling wine, and a tub of antipasti from the deli counter at Tesco. If I’d had more time the Bramleys would have come from the local greengrocer.

I did, however, make up for my dereliction of Valentine’s duty on Sunday by being The Scientist’s kitchen slave all day. He got porridge for breakfast, roast garlic and cannelini bean soup for lunch, and banana daal for dinner (I can’t claim TOO much altruism since I’d wanted to make all these things!). I’d bought loads of over-ripe bananas again, and went a bit crazy baking with them in the afternoon. I decided to revisit the bananas in brownie challenge, as I’m sure there is more mileage to be had. Also, I had just bought Vegan with a Vengeance, and there was such an enticing-sounding brownie with banana pudding topping recipe in there that I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I convinced myself that I should bake while there was daylight for the photography, but I suspect that I was pulling a fast one on myself.

So, I tried two variants: one was a half-batch of the Vegan with a Vengeance super banana’d up brownie (it has banana mush baked on the top – and I use ‘mush’ in a good sense), and the other was the same low fat brownies I made for Dogophile Vegan Nurse, but using bananas instead of prunes. I don't know if it's a problem with the British edition of Vegan with a Vengeance only, but there were a few mistakes which caused a bit of a hiatus - sugar measured in fluid ounces? And no specified oven temperature - aargh! Still, I improvised (noted in the recipe below) and it turned out ok.

Much happy mushing, mixing and mess-making later, I gave The Scientist a little bit of each for him to decide which he wanted a full piece of. The result: a vote for the low fat version! They were both really moist and banana-y, and the extra banana pudding-ness on the top of the regular one got a good vote. They're the ones with the yellowy topping in the picture. Sadly I think I forced the result by accidentally adding almond essence to those ones instead of vanilla, and The Scientist said that was an obvious extra taste (even without knowing what I’d done, or which brownie was which). I thought it was pretty nice anyway but it wasn’t exactly a fair representation of the pudding brownie’s naked glory. Apologies pudding brownie. I thought it was very interesting, though, that the low-fat one had just as nice a texture and moistness as the other, and I would just as happily eat that one, happy in the knowledge that I was doing myself slightly less badness on the calorie front! I even managed to add the right sort of seeds this time, though linseeds are stout little critters – they really didn’t want to get ground up! They’ll be there with the cockroaches at the end of the world. So, a win for the low fat banana brownies, but in fact it was a no-lose contest for Isa Chandra Moskowitz, the author of the book, as they were both her recipes! Hurrah! And a shy first trial for my own attempt at better photography - what do you think??

Banana split pudding brownies (From Vegan with a Vengeance)
Makes 12 brownies [I halved it]

For the brownies:
115g plain chocolate, chopped
2 large very ripe bananas, mashed
5 tbsps rapeseed oil [I used vegetable, with no ill effects]
250ml/8 fl oz sugar [is this a mistake in the British edition? I did measure it out in fluid ounces and it tasted fine but I don't know if it was right!]
1 tsp vanilla extract
90g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/8 tsp salt

For the topping:
2 large very ripe bananas, mashed
2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp soy milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp arrowroot powder [I used cornflour]

Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water. Set aside to cool

In a large mixing bowl, combine the mashed bananas, the oil and the sugar. Use a handheld mixer to beat everything together for about a minute. You can use a fork if you don't have a mixer. Mix in the vanilla and the melted chocolate.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, bicarb or soda and salt. Add this to the banana mixture in batches, mixing with the hand mixer as you go along. Mix for about 1 minute more.

In a small bowl, combine all topping ingredients and mix with the cleaned mixer.

Spread the brownie batter evenly into a baking tin. Pour the banana topping over that and spread evenly. Bake for 30 mins [no temperature?! I put them in at the same temperature as the low fat brownies - ie 325 F]. Remove from oven and let cool. After about 15 mins move it to the fridge until fully cooled [I didn't do this because I don't like stressing the fridge out by making it cool warm things, and I knew most of them were going in the increasingly full-of-brownie freezer]. Cut into 12 squares, and serve with extra banana sliced on the top.


Paul H said...

Photos are looking great - especially the apple pie - very scrummy

LisaRene said...

Thank you for sharing, it's nice that you came up with a special way to celebrate the "schmaltzy" day. How wonderful of him to prepare your whole meal. Risotto strikes me as a very romantic choice. It's fun to get a bit "tipsy" on occasion and Valentines day is as good as any :)

Stef said...

Yay! I'm glad you tried making the grenadine! I've been itchin to make some more. I really enjoyed having it around.