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Adding Spice to Banana Bread

I don’t know about you but I always have extra bananas in the house because I love to eat them for breakfast (almost) daily. But somehow the ripening process is too fast, or I buy too many bananas and I find that I’ve got a few blackening bananas on the counter.

Take these bananas – nobody in their right mind would peel and eat one of those really black bananas.

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Imagine finding a use for something as unappetizing as that? That’s why I love banana bread. While I have a favorite banana bread recipe, I am always on the look out for something interesting. Everyone in my family feels that chocolate chips add dimension to a standard banana bread, but sometimes I want more.

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So when I saw this recipe for coconut banana bread in The Kitchn’s new cookbook I decided to try it.

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In addition to toasted unsweetened coconut, the recipe called for Jamaican allspice which I happen to love. It also called for coconut oil and dark rum, neither of which I have in my pantry at the moment. I substituted melted butter and just skipped the rum and the bread still came out great.

  
Coconut Banana Bread (recipe adapted from The Kitchn)

1/3 C shredded unsweetened coconut
2 C all purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t allspice
4 ripe bananas
1 t vanilla
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 C butter, melted and cooled
2/3 C dark brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9.5 or 8.5 inch loaf pan (I used an 8.5 pan). Mix the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and bake for about two to three minutes, until lightly toasted. Remove from oven and set aside.*

In a large bowl mash the bananas with a fork and add the vanilla. Stir in butter, brown sugar and eggs. Add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in coconut. Pour into prepared loaf pan and bake for approximately 60 to 70 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes and then turn out loaf.

*The recipe called for bringing 3 tablespoons of dark rum to a simmer over medium heat and then adding the coconut, tossing to coat and then turning off the heat and setting aside. I think this could make a delicious addition if you have some dark rum.

Note that if you don’t have a nut allergy in the house (like we do), I would consider folding in chopped walnuts, pecans or macadamia nuts into the batter with the coconut.

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Apple Pancake Baby

First off it’s been a while since I’ve blogged about food. But just because I haven’t been writing about food certainly doesn’t mean that I haven’t been cooking in the last six months. Too the contrary, I remain dedicated to making homemade food for every meal but I’ve been busy with a new job as a local news reporter. So I’ve been writing a lot too, just not about food.

Last weekend I went apple picking in Wisconsin with my family which is one of my favorite fall activities. Fresh, crisp apples picked from the source? Yes please. But now that we are home I’ve found myself awash in apples.

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Which brings me to the apple pancake I made this morning. Absolutely delicious. The recipe caught my eye on The Kitchn website because the writer mentioned a restaurant that happens to be right in my town – Walker Brothers Original Pancake House. Let’s just say Chicagoans are a bit obsessed with pancakes, and this particular restaurant draws crowds daily. One of its specialities is an apple pancake. I knew immediately I had to try this recipe.

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If you’ve ever made a dutch pancake this is basically the same recipe but with apples, brown sugar and cinnamon spices. I made mine in a cast iron skillet, and with five eggs  in the recipe, I was overjoyed when I took the pan out of the oven and it was puffed up to the edges of the pan. The cake sank down as it rested but that initial effect was worth it.

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Dutch Baby Apple Pancake

3 medium apples
4 T sugar, divided
1t cinnamon
1/2 t ground ginger
1/3 C unsalted butter, cut up
1/3 C dark brown sugar
3/4 C flour
1/2 t salt
1/4 t nutmeg
1 C milk (preferably whole)
5 large eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix 3 tablespoons of sugar with cinnamon and ginger and set aside. Peel, core and cut thick apple slices which should yield about three cups. Put the butter into a cast iron skillet or an 8 X 8 baking dish and place in the oven for about 3-4 minutes, or until melted (it’s helpful to set the timer).

Take the pan out of the oven and sprinkle the melted butter with brown sugar. Add the apples and then sprinkle the top with the sugar and spice mixture. Put the pan back in the oven to caramelize the apples while you make the batter.

Whisk flour with remaining sugar, salt and nutmeg. Gradually add milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Whisk in the eggs one at a time and then add the vanilla. Continue to whisk the eggs for about two minutes until the batter is foamy.

When you remove the pan from the oven the sugar should be bubbling around the apples. Pour the batter over the apples and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the center is set and the edges are lightly browned.

Candy Corn Cookies

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Nothing says Halloween like candy corn.  My family loves these cookies and have been requesting them since early October.  I only got around to making them yesterday because someone (I won’t name names here) kept eating all of the candy corn.

IMG_3026These cookies are really simple – the recipe is from the original Martha Stewart Everyday Foods magazine.  Make a batch of shortbread cookie dough, roll teaspoons of the dough into little balls, and bake.  Be sure to gently press the candy corn into the cookies while they are still warm from the oven.

IMG_3035The cookies are very tiny but that is what makes them popular.  Pop one into your mouth and enjoy the contrast of flavors:  the sweet candy corn and salty, buttery cookie dough.

I made half the batch plain shortbread and the other half chocolate.  Makes for some delicious variety and it’s impossible to say which flavor is better.

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To make chocolate cookies: reduce the amount of flour in the recipe to 2 cups and add 1 cup of cocoa powder.  Add cocoa powder along with the flour.  I halved the recipe and made a plain batch, and then using the same bowl, made a chocolate batch.

Candy Corn Cookies

  • Servings: 72
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
2 C sugar
4 egg yolks
1 t vanilla
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
3 C all purpose flour
candy corn

Place butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment.  Mix on medium speed, until combined.  Add egg yolks, vanilla, baking powder and salt.  Lower to medium-low speed and add flour, mixing until dough forms.

Chill dough for 15 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Scoop out teaspoon amounts of dough and roll into balls.  Place on baking sheets, 2 inches apart.  Bake 10-12 minutes, or until edges are firm and cookies are dry to touch.

Remove from oven and gently press a candy corn into the center of each cookie.  Transfer to rack to cool.

 

 

Gnudi with Tomatoes and Marjoram

imageThis recipe dates back about five years and was buried in my file.  I made it once years ago and recall it being delicious and easy.  After successfully making it again the other night, I would say this recipe is definitely a keeper.

imageimageYou may be unfamiliar with gnudi, I consider it a sibling to the more renown gnocchi.  While gnocchi is made with cooked mashed potatoes, gnudi is made with ricotta cheese.  Distinctly lighter than gnocchi, gnudi is easy to make because it doesn’t require cooking potatoes, just a container of fresh ricotta cheese.

imageimageimageMaking gnudi also requires a gentle hand, you don’t want to over mix the dough.  When adding the flour to the ricotta mixture, be sure to stir until just combined.  Likewise, as you roll out the dough into ropes, be sure not to overwork the dough.  It will become a sticky mess.

imageMy final advice is resist the urge to overcook the gnudi.  Cooking gnudi is not like boiling pasta, it is simply a matter of poaching the dough in simmering water.  The gnudi should firm, little dumplings.

imageThis sauce is particularly delicious, made with fresh tomatoes and marjoram.  Enjoy!

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Gnudi with Tomatoes and Marjoram

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
1/4 C finely grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1 egg
2 t melted butter, plus 4 T chilled butter
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 C flour, plus more for dusting
1 large shallot, minced
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
pinch dried chili flakes
4 T olive oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 C fresh marjoram leaves, roughly chopped

Bring pot of salted water to boil.  Make gnudi dough: mix together ricotta, parmesan, egg, melted butter and nutmeg.  Stir in flour until just combined.

Set large sauté pan over medium heat.  Melt chilled butter, add olive oil.  Sauté  shallot, garlic and chili flakes until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Raise heat to medium-high and add tomatoes.  Simmer until tomatoes begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Smash some tomatoes to add texture to sauce.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer.

Meanwhile, roll out gnudi.  On lightly floured surface, roll dough into 1 inch-thick ropes.  Dust with extra flour to prevent sticking.  Cut ropes into 1 inch chunks.  Turn water down to a simmer.  Poach gnudi in simmering water until they float to the top, about 4 minutes.  Remove gnudi with a slotted spoon into the pan with the sauce.  Turn up the heat to medium-high and cook until the sauce is shiny and clings to the gnudi, 2-3 minutes.

Stir in the marjoram and divide among 4 plates.  Serve with grated parmesan on top.

 

Sardine Pasta

imageI’ve been on a mission lately to work my way through some of the recipes I’ve clipped from newspapers and magazines and stashed away, sometimes for years.  I sorted through my collection the other day and couldn’t part with any of them.  Apparently, there was a reason why each recipe was clipped and saved.  Of course, they serve little purpose if I don’t actually make any of the recipes.  That’s why I decide to make one recipe a week – or at least that is my stated goal – and try out some of these cool recipes.

imageLast night, I made a sardine pasta recipe that I clipped from the Chicago Tribune.  Oddly enough, my nine year loves sardines and will happily eat them on crackers for a snack after school.  When I saw this recipe I knew I had to try it.

imageSardines have really gone out of fashion, similar to canned tuna.  Once a staple of all pantries, most people find sardines fishy, oily and all around unappealing.  When I was growing up in Maine, sardine plants packing plants were a part of the working waterfront.  No longer.  The sardines for sale at the grocery store are all packed abroad and imported into the U.S.

imageRegardless, I think people should give sardines another chance.  They are a healthy fish that are affordable and sustainably fished.  I think they are pretty tasty too.  Tough to find many fish with those qualities and I love the idea of having a can on hand to make a quick meal.

imageThis recipe is called Pasta chi sari a mari, or “pasta with sardines that are still in the sea” and was based on a recipe by the late actor Vincent Schiavelli.  Admittedly, I have no idea who this actor is but the recipe was simple and delicious.

The only real change I’ve made is to add course salt to the recipe. Surprisingly, the recipe was lacking in that department, since I thought the sardines would take care of the saltiness.  Dig in!

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Pasta chi sari a mari

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 40 minutes
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1/4 C golden raisins
1/2 C fresh breadcrumbs
1 can (120 grams) sardines in olive oil
3 T olive oil
1 whole clove garlic
1 t fennel seeds
1/4 t red pepper flakes
1/4 C chopped fennel fronds
2 T chopped parsley
1 pound pasta
course salt
freshly ground pepper

Cover the raisins in boiling water; set aside to soften.  Fill large pot with water, cover and put over high heat.  Heat skillet over medium heat, add breadcrumbs, sprinkle liberally with course salt and drizzle with oil from sardines to moisten.  Toast until golden, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

When the water comes to a rapid boil, add about a teaspoon of salt and cook al dente according to package instructions.  Meanwhile, over medium heat put 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot that will hold the pasta.  Add the garlic clove, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic turns golden brown, about 5 minutes. Discard garlic.

Put the sardines and remaining oil into the skillet and break the fish into bite sized pieces. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  When the pasta is done, drain, reserving a 1/2 cup of cooking liquid.  Add the pasta and reserved liquid to the skillet.  Drain the raisins and add them to the skillet, along with the parsley and fennel fronds.  Increase the heat to medium high, stirring constantly until the water is evaporated.

Serve pasta with the toasted breadcrumbs on top.

 

Eggplant Caponata

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Anyone familiar with the Wall Street Journal weekend paper has probably seen the “Slow Food Fast” column.  It’s one of my favorite features.  Just as it sounds, the article features a chef who shares a recipe that includes seasonal food that can be prepared relatively fast.

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Love the concept:  local and fast.  What could be better?  I frequently clip these recipes and on occasion actually make one.  I had clipped out a recipe for Eggplant Caponata by Chef Dave Pasternack, who has two restaurants in New York City.

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This eggplant recipe I’ve made a few times because it is so easy and really dresses up a meal.  Eggplants were on sale this week and I was inspired to make this dish which I put on top of grilled flank steak.

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According to the article, caponata is akin to Sicilian ketchup – apparently, a condiment the Italians like to slather on everything.  While I can imagine slathering caponata on everything, saying this flavorful dish is similar to ketchup is a bit of a put down.

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Caponata is sweet and sour, with a touch of saltiness from the olives. Delish and definitely something worth adding to your repertoire.

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*Note that I have included pine nuts in the recipe since it is typically included in caponata.  I always omit the nuts because my husband has a nut allergy but I am sure it is fabulous with the pine nuts.

Eggplant Caponata

  • Time: 40 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 medium size eggplant, cut into 1/2″ cubes
course salt and ground pepper
1/3 C olive oil
1 clove of garlic, diced
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
18 black olives, pitted and chopped
1 T raisins
1 T pine nuts*

In large sauté pan, heat about 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat.  In batches, add eggplant in single layer and sauté until brown and tender.  Set aside eggplant, add about 1 tablespoon of oil to pan and turn heat down to medium and add garlic and onions.  Cook until onion is translucent and garlic is brown.  Return eggplant to pan and stir in olives, raisins, pine nuts, balsamic vinegar and bay leaf.  Turn heat up to medium-high and sauté until vinegar cooks off and caponata is almost dry.  Season with salt and pepper.

Serve on top of grilled steak, meat of your choice or as a side dish.

 

Honey Cake

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As some of you may or may not be aware, last week was Rosh Hashanah the Jewish holiday celebrating the New Year. Because there are so many Jewish families in our town, the public schools had the day off for the holiday.

IMG_0481As I’ve mentioned before, my father is Jewish but has never celebrated any Jewish holiday in my memory. My daughters felt that their grandfather’s background must count for something (we’ll leave that argument to Jewish scholars), and given that we had the entire day off from school with nothing to do, we should celebrate the New Year.

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What better place to start than to make a traditional Rosh Hashanah food? I knew that the holiday is typically celebrated with apples and honey (symbolizing a sweet New Year) but beyond that wasn’t really sure what fit the bill.

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After perusing the internet, I came upon honey cake which sounded appealing to all of us.  I chose Marcy Goldman’s Majestic and Moist Honey Cake recipe.

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Having never heard of honey cake, it wasn’t until I started searching for recipes that I discovered there are a lot of honey cake haters out there. Apparently grandma didn’t do the cake justice: too dry, too sweet, too heavy. Even The New York Times food critic Melissa Clark jumped onto the honey cake haters bandwagon. She posted a video on YouTube where she demonstrated her honey cake recipe with substitutions such as red wine, olive oil and additional spices.

IMG_0492I followed Goldman’s recipe to the T, using a 10 inch bundt cake pan and Makers Mark whisky.

The end result was a cake that rose so high it almost touched the upper rack when it was baking on the middle rack of my oven. The sweetness from the copious amount of honey and sugar was held in check by the flavor of the whisky.

IMG_0493My husband and I were reminded of the West Indian rum cake which his family makes. Essentially a moist, dense coffee cake that is both sweet and spicy. I say ignore all of those nay-sayers and give this recipe a try.

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This cake merits a place in anyone’s celebration, Jewish or not, and certainly yields enough cake for a crowd.

Majestic and Moist New Year’s Honey Cake

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Time: 1 1/2 hours
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients
3 1/2 C flour
1 T baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
4 t cinnamon
1/2 t cloves
1/2 t allspice
1 C vegetable oil
1 C honey
1 1/2 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
3 eggs
1 t vanilla
1 C warm coffee or tea*
1/2 C orange juice
1/4 C rye or whisky*
1/2 C sliced or slivered almonds

(optional)* I used warm coffee and Maker’s Mark whisky. I skipped the almonds because my husband has a nut allergy, but otherwise I think nuts would be a nice addition.

Generously grease and flour one 9 inch angel food pan or a 10 inch tube or bundt cake pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center and add the rest of the ingredients. Using a whisk or an electric mixer (I found the mixer to do the trick), combine the ingredients well to make a thick batter. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula to be sure no ingredients are stuck to the bottom of the bowl. Pour the batter into prepared pan. If using almonds, sprinkle evenly on top of cake.

Place the pan on two stacked baking sheets and bake until the cake is cooked through. Bake 60-70 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake stand for 15 minutes before removing from the pan. Invert and cool on wire rack.