My comforting banana bread

It is madly snowing in Vancouver today. It is unusual that it snows in the city, only the mountains receive favourable dumps at this time of year. It has not stopped all night and all morning and I guess my son and I will be layering up to enjoy some snow fun making snowballs and snow angels later this afternoon. Right now I am craving comfort, snuggling up on the sofa with a warm slice of banana bread and a cup of tea while I watch the beautiful snowflakes fall.

Snow day in Vancouver Dec '12

My favourite banana bread is one that has a generous quantity of banana in it, soft without crumbling (but not wet), and a nice crust on the outside. There are literally hundred’s of banana recipes out there, and there is always an ingredient or two I don’t like in each recipe so I’ve created by own. When the cold is just too much you can give it a summery feel with coconut and berries.

It was a baking morning today. As much as it is beautiful to look out at all the snow-capped rooftops and trees, it is not at all inviting to step outside and my son was starting to get restless for some activity so he helped me. He had lots of measuring to do with all the dry ingredients and mixing all the wet ones in the well. This kept him happily busy for about half an hour, which is fabulous when you are a parent running out of things to do indoors… however as a precaution you need to know there will be lots of mess!

Mess in the kitchen

photomess

He was particularly delighted to see the final product and give it the first taste test.

Banana Bread (Serves 10)

Ingredients 

oil or butter, to grease and non-stick baking paper

1 1/3 (200g) cups plain flour

1 cup (150g) wholewheat flour

1.5 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup (75g) caster sugar/berry sugar

1/3 cup (75g) brown sugar

1/4 cup (20g) shredded coconut

1 tsp cinnamon

3 eggs lightly whisked

3 large ripe mashed bananas

2/3 cup (160ml) organic virgin coconut oil (melted on low heat)

1.5 tsp of vanilla extract

1/3 cup (75gm) raspberries (frozen and broken up a little so not whole)

Method

1. Preheat oven to 300 F or 150 C. Grease a 7cm-deep 100mm x 200mm (base measurement) loaf pan with oil or melted butter. Line the base and sides with non-stick baking paper.

2. Sift the combined flours and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, coconut and cinnamon and mix through so ingredients are evenly distributed.

3. Make a well in the centre. Add the eggs, banana, oil and vanilla and again mix well. Fold through the frozen raspberries.

4. Pour into the prepared pan. Smooth the surface. Bake for 1 hour and increase temperature to 355 F / 180 C for a further 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.  Set aside in the pan for 15 minutes to cool before lifting out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Note: It is quite a dense mixture so I like to bake it slower and longer to deliver a great result. 

Other combinations I have tried are gluten-free four, banana, blackberries and chocolate and also banana, raspberries and date. They all seem to taste good to me.

Enjoy!

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Wining and Dining in the Okanagan Valley

Ok… over to my again husband to recount our recent trip.

This trip to the spiritual home of BC wines was highly anticipated on many fronts. Firstly we relished the opportunity to learn more about the wines we were savouring in Vancouver, secondly we hoped to discover a few more fine examples of Okanagan golden goodness and lastly we longed for a good

Oliver Road 18

The vista from Road 18 vineyard in Oliver

old fashion road trip. I think Canadians and Aussies definitely share a common enthusiasm for long, meandering drives to wonderful destinations. Our countries are decorated with natural beauty but in both cases it can take a mighty long time to get there. You can lament this situation or just strap yourself into a trusty vehicle, turn up the stereo and enjoy the ride. Equally, what better way to see a new country than from the vantage of a road trip and what better time of the year to do it in, than Fall.

The Okanagan Wine Country is about 5-6 hours north east of Vancouver and the Zielinski’s opted for a timeless classic in the form of a Volkswagen Westfalia. This van rolled off the production line in 1986, so it was a vintage VW but had been lovingly maintained all those years so was still highly reliable (we hoped…)  It came with it’s own fridge, cooktop, double bed and a top speed, on the downhill, of 110km/h. Having this chariot chug us down the highway added a deft touch of romanticism to our trip.

Our steed, the Westfalia

The 26 year old Volkswagen Westfalia, sure wasn’t the fastest way to get somewhere but definitely the most fun

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This is the heart of some of the best vineyards to visit

The drive up was beautiful and even swept us pass Hope, BC the setting for the legendary Sylvester Stallone film “Rambo, First Blood”. We took a pre-planned pit stop at a roadside fruit and veg store to feed one of our touring party’s growing  addiction for pumpkin and gourds. These were critical components to the upcoming Halloween festival. We spied a slinking wolf on the way up and arrived in Naramata in the early evening.

 

Here we met the lovely and gregarious Renee who ran a delightfully unique B&B – Robinson Bed and Beach. Her links to the area were indisputable as her grandfather was one of the first to settle in the area and built the Heritage Inn. The B&B had a moose head proudly on display that apparently fed Renee’s relatives for two years during one particular lean period. It’s difficult to describe the B&B in words other than to say eclectic would be high on the list. It was perfectly placed on the shores of Lake Skaha, so the sunrises were breathtaking. The view was enhanced further by the jumping into the outdoor Jacuzzi with a coffee or wine depending on the time of day.

Now, back to the main purpose of our trip – wine tasting. Obviously everyone was looking forward to this, especially our hosts who were itching to introduce us to some fine wineries. The only tragedy we struck was my wife learning 3 days before we left that she was 5 weeks pregnant with our second child. Devastation at not wanting to drink wine due to the incessant nausea countered by joy of knowing we were growing a second child would describe her mental state. So I took it graciously upon myself to taste and drink for the two of us. Almost all of us thought this was very selfless of me.

All 3 days of our Okanagan visit involved a very similar routine. We set out mid morning after a quick Jacuzzi by the Lake, carefully keeping an eye out for the legendary Okopogo.

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Never tire of this view of Lake Skaha from our B&B

We would then hit a few wineries before lunch and before our kids self destructed. Then we would visit a few more vineyards in the afternoon (mainly G and I) whilst the ladies would corral the kids back to the B&B for some entertainment. Perhaps the greatest challenge during the weekend was entertaining the 3 kids whilst we tasted.  My memory of all the wines we tasted and vineyards we visited is limited but my general impressions were that the region is truly breathtaking. It rivals and tops many of the wine areas I have been lucky to visit so far. I would rank it above the Hunter Valley, Clare Valley, Napa and it would be on par with the Dordogne, France. Whilst in terms of its wines this region is an infant in comparison since most vineyards are 20 years or less old.

The Okanagan

Quite simply … Okanagan Gold

There were definitely many standouts however, they are probably a little over priced and I was a little frustrated by the tasting fees which appeared almost mandatory at every place, even the small vineyards. I know this is standard practice in the States but it doesn’t sit very well with me as tasting the product is part of doing business. Anyhow this aspect didn’t detract greatly from our experience. We even visited a wonderful cheese farm, a vineyard, Elephant Island, that made wines from plums, raspberries, blackberries, apples and peaches. This probably harks from the time that the Okanagan was overrun with plenty of orchards. Some 15 years ago there was a shift from orchards to vineyards as everyone eyed the potential for more money from selling bottles of wines rather than boxes of apples. I am sure glad they did as the region is spectacular.

OK, so what wines stood out I hear you plead. Definite highlights included the Burrowing Owl in Oliver, Quail’s Gate in Kelowna and in Narramatta I loved La Frenz, Red Rooster, Wan Westen and Poplar Grove. The most epic and Napa like vineyard was undoubtedly Mission Hill in Kelowna. This is a monument to largeness. Epic! Mammoth! Gargantuan! All these descriptors aptly provide a snapshot to this place.

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Understated? The entry into Mission Hill

It is framed with massive marble and stone arches, roman-like pillars and amphitheatres which funnily enough provided the kids with so much fun as they rolled down them a million times. This was where our trip concluded. We sadly filed back into the Westfalia and braced ourselves for the long car trip home. We three were happier for the amazing landscapes, food, wine and friends we enjoyed for Thanksgiving 2012.

Thanksgiving Colour

Happy Thanksgiving 2012

Good Places To Eat

1. The Bench Market – known for their delectable Eggs Bennie

2. The Patio @ Lake Breeze Winery – relaxed atmosphere couple with a great food and a spectacular view

3. Burrowing Owl – For a beautiful dining experience where the matching wines are as great as the dishes

Beetroot and goat’s cheese tart

I feel a little disappointed in myself for not having posted anything since early October. Well I have a really good reason for that now! I felt a little out of sorts a few days before I stopped writing, and lost my way with inspiration, cooking and the adventures we were getting up to. The only time I remember having a lack of interest in food and cooking was when I was pregnant back in 2009. So there you are…I found out just before Thanksgiving weekend that I was pregnant again!

Anyway, to get me going again I thought I would post this recipe now for our friends Nicola and Steve who we enjoyed it with this weekend. I reserve this recipe for entertaining, because once you find out how good it tastes, you will find it hard to stop at one piece!

Beets have been marching into the stores in droves. They are well and truly a favourite fall produce pick of mine. Leading into winter, they are a vegetable loaded with cold fighting properties; and honestly I think they taste good in just about anything; juices, in burgers (it’s an Aussie thing), baked with your favourite roast beef dish, relish, warm winter salads and this tart recipe by Valli Little which was published in the March issue of delicious. magazine, 2011.

This tart is delectable and although you may think by looking at it that there could be a degree of difficulty because of how amazing it looks, there isn’t! Just follow the recipe and you will be rewarded with this beautiful dish which I would not change in anyway…it’s almost perfect! I have tested it out on guests and we all politely held back from being the first to dive in for another serving. If you are fortunate enough to still have some left, it will just last till the next day – it is best served on day of cooking.

Beetroot and goat’s cheese tart (serves 6)

Ingredients

1 bunch of beetroot (about 400 gm) trimmed

30 gm unsalted butter

1 Tablespoon olive oil

2 red onions. thinly sliced

1/4 cup (60ml) balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons thyme leaves plus extra sprigs

1 Tablespoon caster sugar

150 gm soft goat’s cheese (I bought Salt Spring Island’s creamy goat’s cheese – it’s divine)

2 eggs, lightly beaten

150 ml thickened cream

1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg (ground is fine if you can’t find whole nutmegs)

250 gm creme fraiche or sour cream

1 Tablespoon bottled horseradish

2 tsp Dijon mustard

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Pastry

1 1/3 cups (200 gm) plain flour

100 gm chilled unsalted butter chopped

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

Method

1. Place beetroot in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 1 hour, topping with water if necessary, until tender. Drain. Refresh under cold water and leave to cool. Peel and coarsely grate. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, for the pastry, place flour, butter, thyme and a pinch of salt in a food processor and whiz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add 1/4 cup (60ml) chilled water, then process until the mixture comes together in a ball. Enclose in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Lightly grease a 30 cm loose-bottomed tart pan. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry to 5mm thick, then use to line the tart pan. Chill for 15 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 180 C / 355 F. Line pastry with baking paper and fill with pastry weights or uncooked rice. Bake for 10 minutes, remove the paper and the weights, then bake for 5 minutes or until dry and pale golden.

4. Heat the butter and oil in a frypan over medium heat. Add onions and 1 teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes until softened. Add beetroot, vinegar, thyme and sugar, then cook, stirring for 5 minutes or until thickened and syrupy. Spread beetroot mixture over the tart base, then crumble over the cheese.

5. Whisk egg, cream and nutmeg together, then pour into the tart case. Scatter with extra thyme. Bake 35 minutes or until set.

6. Meanwhile, combine the creme fraiche, horseradish, Dijon and lemon juice, then season. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

7. Cut tart into slices and serve warm or cold with horseradish cream.

I like serving this tart with a fennel salad on the side. Enjoy!

Beetroot and goat’s cheese tart – http://www.greenskis.wordpress.com