Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rum 'n' Snow

... And I'm back for vacation! We escaped the sunshine and gentle humidity of Florida and the sun-and-rum-soaked shores of the Western Caribbean only to be shaken (via airplane) and poured on ice (er, snow). I don't mind though. I am a bit of an extreme weather lover. Well, perhaps it's best to say I like to "mix it up," so flip flops one day, Uggs the next ain't no thang for this mama.

I had never experienced a cruise before and was nervous/ excited/ dying to get away on "the big motorboat," as H described it. I have some friends who absolutely love to cruise; others, they kind of put the fear of Triton and Montezuma's revenge in me around water transport/ accommodations. I fall somewhere much closer to like than dislike, but I am pretty sure that I will not be joining a frequent cruiser program anytime soon. I enjoy my vacations lazy and beach-filled; working on "ship's time" was not my favorite directive. If you know me, you know that the more I am told to do something, the more I will act like a petulant child: a bratty tween being minded by an overbearing great aunt who thinks you can't walk to the mail box by yourself or fix yourself a sandwich, so said tween rolls eyes, darts in traffic and plays with fire. Maybe that's overly dramatic, but my main motto in college (notice I stated college, not preschool) was: You're not the boss of me. Anyways, all that means is I prefer to wake up when I want, grab a coffee and if in Hawaii, donut (the best I've ever had from some hole-in-the-wall on Oahu), head to the beach with a book, towel and sunglasses, swim/ lounge/ people watch/ sleep all day until the sun sets, then go to bed early (it's vacation- I sleep a lot), and do it again the next day. Cruising doesn't really lend itself to my preferred laziness and own time frame. But I digress.

The employees were incredibly friendly and accommodating; I also noted there weren't too many Americans represented within the staff (just sayin'). There were several days where the drink specials were delectable, and I had quite a few amazingly delish meals. Their prime rib, something I am not one to order, was especially tasty: all buttery soft, a perfect medium rare, great salt crust, and not too much fat. The au jus needed some work, but there was horseradish (sigh of content). I don't cook much red meat because H is not a fan (my daughter is OBSESSED with cows, and it was very traumatic for her to learn the source of beef is her beloved bovine), so I really went to town on the ship with different cuts and beef dishes (Chateaubriand and a great New York Strip/ Black Tiger prawn surf 'n' turf). My cruisemate, friend of forever M, also enjoyed some tasty fillets. She likes her meat a little more done than I, but the bite I tasted still was close-your-eyes-swoon-worthy.

As you can probably imagine, the seafood dishes were also excellent. M and I both dined on an AMAZING brasa dish that I *think* was cooked in parchment, with lemons, fennel, tomatoes (more like a tomato broth than fruit) and black olives. Nomnomnomnom. It was so light, no heavy-handed oil or butter appearance, just the right amount of salt, and the vegetables and fruits were so complex in the sauce. The fennel had mellowed out, and the lemon was all cooked down and squishy and divine. I haven't seen Brasa in my local grocery market, so I am going to do some investigating. It appeared to be like a white fish, so I may try out my ideas on some haddock or halibut or cod, maybe even tilapia. Sole would be good too, perhaps.

There was also an incredible-cannot-even-take-how-good-this-tastes-and-feels-in-your-mouth chocolate lava-esque cake. Chocolate is my homeboy. I am like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (prior to going nutso) with chocolate. Oh cocoa, how I love thee? And how I adore thee even more than I thought possible when made molten. I ate, like, 10 of these little melty souffles that were almost like par-baked dark chocolate brownies. You know what I am talking about: those dense little morsels that are all deceptive and appear cooked, but when you break the confectionery-dusted top with your spoon, a black river of ambrosia flows out. Ok, so it doesn't flow it; it oozes like mud, but that's not a particularly nice visual. Whatever. I am obsessed with this dessert, and a recipe is for sure forthcoming...

But I what I love, dare I say, almost equally? Rumcake! Oh yes, rumcake. Alcohol, to me, is so much better when eaten with and cooked in food. Especially when it's all coddled in eggs, butter and flour and baked in the oven at 375 F. Now, what kind of Caribbean wayfarer would I be if I didn't partake in the duty free specialties. I bought a big jug of deep, dark rum, and I intend to drink and cook with it all winter to remind me of the tropics. I am on the lookout for some rumcake recipes, but in the meantime, I had a fruit bowl and refrigerator to clean out upon arriving in my winter wonderland. There were several cartons of eggs as well as some gems of bananas. Scouring the cabinets, there were some leftover prunes and raisins from Thanksgiving, and walnuts from Christmas. Rum-soaked fruits in banana bread it is.

Rum-drunk Banana Bread

This recipe was adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess (my bible during my Missoula years). Banana bread is so versatile, and the flavors really lend themselves to the vacation nostalgia I was going for. And bananas and rum-soaked fruits? Meyers, take me away...

1/2 cup of prunes, chopped
2 ounces of amaretto
4 ounces dark rum
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus two tablespoons of spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
4 small, very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract

Put the prunes in a small saucepan with the alcohol. Bring to boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for at least an hour. The prunes should absorb almost all of the alcohol. When ready to add to batter, drain the fruit.

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Put the flour, baking power, baking soda, and salt into a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar. Beat until well incorporated. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the mashed bananas. Stir in walnuts, drained prunes, and extracts. Add the flour mixture, quarter of a cup at a time, making sure all is incorporated after each addition. Pour batter into a buttered loaf pan (9x5 works, make sure it's well-buttered or lined with parchment), scraping out every last delicious spoonful. Bake for 60-75 minutes on the center rack. An inserted toothpick should be near clean when testing doneness. Leave it in for at least 10 minutes to rest and cool in the pan; then, turn out to finish cooling to scarf down, warm, with a smear of cream cheese.

You could sub out spelt flour with whole wheat. I would increase all purpose flour to 3/4 cup, though, and just 1/4 cup plus the two tablespoons of whole wheat. I also think I am going to try and get the bread drunk on rum the next time. If you don't have/ like prunes, try raisins. The prunes definitely added the rummy flavor I was looking for, and the extracts enhanced it, but how awesome would a drunk banana bread be, with eggnog or really strong french vanilla custard or creme anglaise? Or even make rum ice cream and serve the bread warm for dessert? Or you could try some fresh bananas, sauteed in butter, brown sugar and rum, add to the bottom of the bread, and then bake? Oh, the possibilities are endless, and so is my supply of overripe bananas!

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