other people’s recipes

Food for fun is taking it easy this week. After the excitement of last Thursday’s crazy Halloween bash, it’s time to take it down a notch. Instead of offering original fare, I’m paying it forward by sharing experiences with recipes found elsewhere.

If you’re looking for recipes and photos that make you drool, a trip to Cottage Grove House should do the trick. Last August, a post for Cherry Yogurt Cake stopped me in my tracks. I was struck by the recipe’s simplicity. What would one need to make this pretty little cake? Only butter, sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder, yogurt, and cherries. Last week brought time to make the cake and it was everything I hoped it would be: spectacular in its simplicity.

Of course there were changes, though none made deliberately. About halfway through slicing through the bag of cherries I’d frozen last summer, I realized there were no pits (can you say “autopilot”?) and upon closer inspection saw that the cherries were red grapes. Huh. Well, why not, thought I and went ahead with my newly named Grape Yogurt Cake. I also neglected to use vanilla yogurt and didn’t add vanilla to the plain yogurt I did use. But in the end it was a stunner. As much as I love fancy-pants desserts, there’s something so lovely about a simple white cake.

PB&J Cake

PB&J Cake

The grapes had me thinking peanut butter, so I added a spoonful of two of chunky-style to warm caramel sauce and served it alongside, christening it PB&J Cake. I’m certain the cake would be smashing made with only cherries as well. Three cheers for Cottage Grove House!

Moving on: I’m always thrilled when others take me up on my invitation to post their fun food finds at deLizious facebook. Amb, of Words Become Superfluous fame, thrilled me over the weekend by posting her bananarrific muffins. They looked most festive propped with a Christmas-themed plate and topped with Halloween candy. (It’s a must-see you haven’t already. Follow my deLizious link above and look for 11/3’s post.) She also credited the original recipe, and it was drool-at-first sight. These muffins looked tender, moist, and so very banana-y. (And we all know food for fun loves a good overripe banana recipe.)

Glad for yet another excuse to bake, I set out to make the muffins. A note on the recipe mentioned the option of turning it into banana bread–even better. The loaf still got a generous topping of chopped Snicker’s and peanut butter cups per amb’s photo. Glorious and amazing, this quickbread makes breakfast and snack time very bright. Thanks, amb!

candy-topped banana bread

candy-topped banana bread

all sliced up

all sliced up

Finally, I’ll share a healthier recipe, with which I was also enamored. True to form, it took me a while to get around to making a Weary Chef soup that caught my eye back in February. My daughters love Panera’s chicken wild rice soup, and this seemed a healthier but equally lovely version. I went totally DIY with this one, starting with a large kettle of water and a whole chicken. After making stock, I proceeded with WC’s recipe and ended up with a pot of mmmm-good soup. After two large bowls, I was full and warm and happy. My girls enjoyed theirs as well, and I liked that it was chock-full of veggies, whole grain, and lean protein. Weary Chef is about much more than her Happy Hour, people!

DIY cream chicken wild rice soup

DIY cream chicken wild rice soup

So that’s the recap. Though I’ll close with a link to my latest Minnesota Soybean project. No need to click over unless you like pumpkin waffles 😉

Wishing you a most excellent and delicious week.

because sometimes one ice cream flavor just isn’t enough

Seems the blogosphere has been heating up. True, some bloggers are now enjoying a winter season (talking to you, Peckish Kiwi), but for the most part I read of folks pert-near melting from high temps. Becky, Deb, Lilly Sue, Cheri, and so many others have been advising us on how to stay cool. Even in Minnesota, where winter kicks in late October and sometimes stays put until April, we’re looking at high temps and dastardly humidity that make indoor cooking unfathomable. For my part, meals this week have been no-cook, grilled (thanks to the fine folk at Patrons of the Pit for teaching me there are few foods that can’t be grilled), or cooked up in the slow cooker.

The soaring mercury also has me thinking ice cream (though ice cream thoughts are always near regardless of what the mercury is doing) and plentiful fresh produce offers hosts of options. Nearly 30 pounds of pick-your-own berries (when local fresh produce shows up in Minnesota, we consume with a vengeance) and a neighborly gift of MORE BANANAS helped me narrow these options. My ice cream cravings would be satisfied in flavors of banana and strawberry.

First, those bananas. What to do with more bananas? I’d already baked bread, cakes, cookies, and bars. I’d made a smoothie. I’d roasted and pureed the flesh for mashed banana at a moments’ notice. But, I had yet to make ice cream. Stories of “healthy” banana ice cream had always intrigued me as it was purported to taste like ice cream, while being nothing more than frozen frappĂ©ed bananas. It seemed a good way to burn through the six bunches I had recently acquired, so I peeled, pureed, froze. I also mixed in chopped chocolate just because I could.

banana "ice cream" in the making

banana “ice cream” in the making

Verdict? Not bad. Though I’d compare it to an icy popsicle more than I would ice cream. In the end, the poor banana faux ice cream didn’t stand a chance as it was compared to my next project: Killer strawberry ice cream.

Turning again to Humphry Slocombe, I pureed 2 cups sliced fresh berries per instructions for Here’s Your D@mn Strawberry Ice Cream. (This wicked-cool ice cream has the same naming origins as does HS’s Here’s Your D@mn Chocolate Ice Cream, featured here.) A no-cook “custard” made this the perfect frozen treat to make on a sweltering day in a non-air conditioned kitchen.

berries + cream=bliss

berries + cream=bliss

And when I put these ice creams side-by-side for their deLizious facebook post

can you spot the imposter ice cream?

can you spot the imposter ice cream?

a clear winner emerged. The strawberry ice cream was rich, creamy, tart, sweet, and pink; a frozen ball of brown banana was going to play second fiddle.

Wanting to give the banana ice cream another shot, I thawed it slightly, then beat it with an electric mixer (a food processor was used the first round) to whip more air into it along with ingredients I hoped would enhance flavor: ground cinnamon, vanilla, peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, and bourbon (!). It was much improved with a stronger flavor profile and slightly creamy texture. But it was also still basically frozen banana.

creamier and a fuller flavor, but it still ain't ice cream!

creamier and a fuller flavor, but still not ice cream

If this were a contest, the strawberry ice cream wins. But there’s always room for more than one ice cream–real or faux–so will enjoy each flavor for what it is. The banana as a sweet and sort-of healthy treat (adding bourbon, etc zapped much of its nutritional merit) and the strawberry as a decadent summer I-shouldn’t-really-eat-this-whole-bowl-but-I-just-can’t-stop-myself sort of thing.

If you need a summer cooler, I’d recommend whipping up bananas (with beaters instead of in a food processor) and freezing the puree. Stirring in plain or vanilla yogurt would be a good move, too, adding creaminess. But don’t stop there. Go ahead and make HS’s sensational strawberry ice cream as well. It’s as simple as pureeing those 2 cups fresh hulled berries (straining if desired, though I did not) and whisking together with 2 cups cream, 1/2 cup condensed milk, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (!), and 2 teaspoons salt. Chill thoroughly, then process in ice-cream maker.

tastes like summer

tastes like summer

So, chill out, beat the heat, stay cool. There are more summertime clichĂ©s I’d like to use here, but that strawberry ice cream is melting and it’d be a shame to let it go to waste. Rushing off to catch it now, but will see you next week. Thanks for stopping by!

a very long introduction, three recipes down, one to go

Needing a topic for this post, I thought back to starting food for fun. With so many great food blogs already out there, I knew I needed a niche. While I didn’t know what that niche would be (still not entirely sure, btw), I jumped in and started writing. Topics have been chosen solely because they inspire or excite me enough to want to share.

A backward glance, though, tells me that I often jump over inspired and even excited to arrive at obsessed. (About an hour after having this thought, I read a friend’s post which highlighted this very word–nice.)

You’ve read of obsession with all things marshmallow (here and here). You’ve read a post outlining obsessive stalking following of The Weary Chef’s Happy Hour. (A much earlier post had offered only four cocktail recipes.) You’ve seen batch after batch after batch of homemade ice cream, one even damaging my phone. Then there were the four batches of caramel sauce (in. a. row.) to achieve a dark enough color. And the most recent “project” using 24 overripe bananas in as many hours? Yes to obsessive. With the banana post in particular, more than one facebook comment suggested that I was possibly a bit bananas myself.

So here’s my question: Do folks blog because they are obsessed enough about a topic that they absolutely have to write it up and put it out there for others to read? Are all bloggers bananas?

Everyone writes for their own reason, so I wouldn’t presume that all come from a place of obsession. But I know absolutely that there’s oodles of passion behind a blogger’s reasons for writing, no matter the topic. And maybe your blog serves the purpose that mine does for me: to legitimately attend to my obsessions.

And with this thought, I return to my original question (feel free to head up to the top again as it’s likely been forgotten during this long-winded intro): What to write up next? I didn’t like the idea that came to me as it seemed repetitive. But. What’s an obsessed food writer to do? It seemed that food for fun was to go bananas AGAIN. (Sorry guys. I really fought this one.)

You’d think the smoothie, roasted puree, and cake made last week would have satisfied my banana fever, but the siren call of four bunches of browned bananas clearanced out at 99 cents was too much for me to resist. I snapped the bananas up and roasted them Perky Poppy-style, using brandy instead of last round’s rum. (I also skipped the butter and the resulting puree was as divine as the last batch.)

The puree went into Barefoot Contessa’s Banana Sour Cream Pancakes, which could pass for dessert as easily as they could breakfast. The bananas are added to the top of the ‘cakes before flipping, adding a flavor hit bar none. (“Bananas in a basket!” read one facebook comment.) Thanks, amb, for pointing me toward a killer recipe.

Barefoot Contessa's were prettier, but they couldn't have tasted any better than this stack

Barefoot Contessa’s were prettier, but they couldn’t have tasted any better than this stack

Though some would have stopped at one banana recipe, I had Trace in the Kitchen’s Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies to make. Only changes: upping the 3/4 cup chocolate chips to 1 cup as that last 1/4 cup was begging to be used and adding a dot of Marshmallow Fluff to each dough ball just because I could. These cookies were as tasty and soft and dreamy as Trace had promised.

little banana dough balls with a spot of fluff

little banana dough balls with a spot of fluff

Thanks, Trace in the Kitchen, for a fun recipe!

Thanks, Trace in the Kitchen, for a fun recipe!

Next up was Saucy gander’s Ultimate Banana Bread, which included the extra step of draining thawed frozen overripe bananas, then reducing that liquid by half and stirring it back into the puree. It calls for whole wheat flour–a plus–and its crowning touch is a layer of shingled banana slices sprinkled with caster sugar. The cupboard bare of caster sugar, I grabbed a bottle of coarse pink sugar (found in the cupboards of moms of young girls everywhere), though next time will use coarse sanding sugar as the pink didn’t do it for me. But the banana bread itself was a winner. Removing some of the water from the mashed bananas heightened their flavor, making the final bread richer and more darkly banana-y.

not sold on the pink, but Ultimate Banana Bread is indeed Ultimate

not sold on the pink, but Saucy gander’s Ultimate Banana Bread is indeed Ultimate

Also on my list were these delicious-looking peanut butter banana chocolate bars from Kelli’s Retro Kitchen Arts, though a closer look revealed banana cake mix, not fresh bananas. The photo looks so amazing, I’ll eventually find a way around the cake mix dilemma and come up with a version for my brandy-roasted bananas.

And that, I hope, is the end of my banana tale. I raise a (Weary Chef) cocktail to bloggers everywhere, celebrating our obsessions, passions, and willingness to share. Thank you for reading about mine.

banana bash–three dishes you’ll want to make and one you will not

Those who’ve been here before may have read mention of neighbors who bring over a box of food every Sunday. My understanding is that their church has a community food bank, from which they take any leftovers home to share with friends and family.

It’s much like a CSA as I never know what a Sunday will bring. Near-expired dairy products, produce, cookies, bread–it’s been fun to receive this kindness weekly. We offer our thanks each time they bring bounty (though their being from Nigeria and ourselves born and raised Minnesotan means communication can be spotty) and when appropriate, share what we make with their gifts. (They once brought over a 50-pound (!) box of chocolate chips–you’d better believe they got a batch or three of cookies out of me.)

they dared me to use them all

they dared me to use them all

I share this here not so much as a personal anecdote, but rather to set up this post’s reason for being: four bunches of spotted bananas. Not four spotted bananas, no. Four bunches.

What to do? A loaf of banana bread wouldn’t even make a dent. Freezing (peeled or no, both work) would take care of what I couldn’t use, but I was up for a challenge, so put it out there on deLizious facebook that I needed banana recipes stat. And my awesome readers came through. Here’s what I did to use up three of those four bunches. (One went home with friends, so was not my problem.):

My friend Jill wrote about a smoothie her family enjoys on summer nights. Cleverly named Monkey Smoothies blend frozen banana chunks, chocolate sauce, peanut butter, and milk. I cut a few bananas up and froze them overnight, then followed Jill’s instructions the next morning. The shakes were dreamy and tasted much like a peanut butter cup would were it frozen and drinkable. Definitely a winner.

frozen bananas, pbutter, choc sauce, milk--yum!

frozen bananas, pbutter, choc sauce, milk–how could this be anything but extraordinary?

monkey smoothie: drink a candy bar for breakfast

monkey smoothie: drink a candy bar for breakfast

Fellow WordPress blogger Perky Poppy Seed opened new worlds for me with her “recipe.” She suggested slitting unpeeled bananas “banana split-style” and placing on a baking sheet. Next, the slits were filled with small pieces of butter, ground cinnamon, and a splash of rum (or brandy or bourbon) and roasted at 400°F-ish until the skins turn black. Finally, the puree is spooned from the skins and used wherever mashed banana is called for. This was a “wow” for me–any banana bread I’ve ever made (and I’ve made a fair number as I try not to repeat b bread recipes) could be made again with this spiked puree, taking on a slightly different flavor. This I had to try.

not going to win any beauty contest, but they smell heavenly

not going to win beauty contests, but they smell heavenly

I filled and roasted 10 of the bananas, placing them on a foil-lined baking sheet to avoid having to wash the pan. The fragrance was heavenly and the final puree was as amazing as I’d imagined.

this stuff is pure baking gold

pure baking gold

I immediately set aside a cup for my next project, which was…

bananarama cake!

bananarama cake!

Beki, of Beki Cook’s Cakes, is the instructor responsible for my personal best in making a cake look pretty. She responded to my facebook query with a link to her blog for what looked to be an amazing recipe. I followed this recipe mostly to the letter, though used the roasted rum bananas and sprinkled a touch of vanilla salt between frosted layers.

The cake was phenomenal, though Beki will most likely wonder if I left my fine decorating skills in her classroom. Alas, the finished cake was a bit more goofy than it was beautiful. (I could use my 7-year-old daughter as an excuse for the imperfect frosting, but she was really only responsible for one smudge in the lettering. I’ll take full responsibility here.)

one crazy--but tasty--cake

one crazy–but tasty–cake

But even without bakery-quality visuals, this cake was crazy good. I was finally able to stop myself after three slices (they were fairly small, but still!) and am even now remembering how moist and tender that cake was. How it had an earthy sweetness that keeps you coming back for more. I managed to part with half of the cake to share with our neighbors, which means the cake has already dwindled significantly. When it’s gone? I’ll make another as I have a good cup or so of the spirited puree in my freezer.

oh, this is good

oh, this is good

The one banana recipe I did not use (besides the one that read “open trash bag, throw away”–horrors!) was offered by the keeper of the Kirschner Cookbook Library, which I’ve written up here before. Megan posts great finds from this library at a favorite blog and she pulled from her archives to share Banana Sardine Boats. These scary salads are worth a click for the kitsch factor alone.

Left in my freezer, then, is about a cup of spirited banana puree and maybe 1/2 cup frozen banana chunks. I was thrilled to meet my banana challenge, though also had plenty of help from facebook readers. While the four bunches of spotty bananas are gone, I’m certain I will run across more sooner rather than later and I’d bet you will, too. So I ask you to keep the recipes and ideas coming. What is your go-to banana recipe when you find yourself with too many brown bananas? Please share as it’s more fun to go bananas with fellow food folk 🙂

banana bread fiesta

Seems there’s a lot of banana bread being served in the blogosphere. A quick WordPress search brought me loaves of the traditional, gluten-free, cheater version, tricked out, ĂŒber-healthy, and even out-of-the-box “loaves” such as muffins and granola (!). Foodforfun’s history with banana bread goes deep as well, with posts on banana flatbread, copy-cat loaf, soynut banana bread, banana chip-studded bread, and the most recent movie-star version. Even blogs not solely dedicated to food feature banana bread as seen in this crazy story of poutine, romance, and peanut butter chocolate-chip banana bread.

WordPress representing only a teeny tiny sliver of the recipe universe, there are most certainly an infinite number of recipes for banana bread. Funny thing, though: we’re always hungry for more. There must be many who, like me, love trying new banana bread recipes and never settle on a favorite. This post, then, is written for you.

Needing to feed my sourdough starter and also having discovered a bag of overripe bananas in my freezer, I could sense a sourdough banana bread in my very near future. Whispers of “chocolate” in my head steered me to google “sourdough chocolate banana bread.” C Mom Cook‘s lovely blog popped up with exactly the recipe I was looking for. Besides subbing in 1/4 cup whole wheat flour for the white, using chopped-up Easter chocolate instead of the chocolate chips, and sprinkling the unbaked loaves with chocolate salt, I stayed true to C Mom’s recipe.

The resulting loaves (I doubled the recipe) were Wows–rich and tangy, not too sweet, plenty of banana. It’s likely not a banana bread for the masses, but rather a loaf for those who like their quick breads on the dense side and very much enjoy sourdough. I’ve moved it to the top of my list of favorite banana breads, but imagine it will be displaced sooner rather than later by a newly discovered recipe for this quick bread classic.

doubling the pleasure of sourdough chocolate banana bread

doubling the pleasure of sourdough chocolate banana bread

even Mickey is sweet on this banana bread

even Mickey is sweet on this banana bread

movie star banana bread or Andrew McCarthy is all grown up now

I’m continually amazed that the 1980s were so terribly long ago. It doesn’t seem more than a handful of years back that I was wearing baggy pinstripe Zenas (!) and listening to the likes of Toni Basil. (For a hysterically funny take on how time flies, Becky’s thoughts on such things is so worth a read.) Children of the ’80s are all grown up by now and have since realized that shoulder pads perhaps weren’t the smartest fashion move (though I think they might be coming back–hoo boy) and big hair was, well, too big. Those who claim the ’80s as their “formative years” now have smart phones, real jobs, families.

Consider Andrew McCarthy, leading man in classic ’80s cinema: Class, Fresh Horses, Weekend at Bernie’s, Mannequin (an underrated movie if there ever was one), Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire. Food for fun won’t focus on the movies (my blogging buddy, amb, can help you there–she’s the best), but rather the fact that Andrew McCarthy is also all grown up now. He’s a food writer!

Imagine my surprise when I first saw McCarthy’s byline in Bon Appetit just a few months back. I quickly looked him up online and besides noting that he has aged very well, I learned he is Editor-at-Large for National Geographic Traveler and has won boatloads of awards for his writing. (Admittedly, he writes more on travel than he does food, but in my world Mr. McCarthy is a Food Writer.)

The March ’13 BA features his tale of traveling twisty and narrow roads in search of the best banana bread on the planet. A land-locked Midwesterner, I hadn’t known that Hawaii is said to be home to the very best of the banana breads and I enjoyed reading McCarthy tell of his visits to a handful of off-the-beaten-path roadside huts known for this all-American quickbread. The recipe for Julia’s Banana Bread was given, citing it as the top banana of the banana bread world.

When sharing this story with a friend, I learned of her trip to Hawaii a few years back when she, too, went on a pilgrimage for this bread, inspired by tales of locals. Hours after setting out, her party finally made it to the tiny hut only to learn Julia’s was out of bread for the day. A downer for sure, but now thanks to the all-grown-up Andrew McCarthy, Julia’s banana bread is available to all.

Calling for the most basic of ingredients (eggs, flour, baking soda, sugar, salt, bananas, oil), it was an easy loaf to whip up. I’ll admit to fighting urges to tweak: oh, how I wanted to add a pinch of cinnamon or ginger, a handful of chocolate chips, sub out half of the all-purpose flour for whole wheat. But I stood strong, if only out of respect for McCarthy and his craft.

Sticking to the formula was worth it. Largely because of the 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3/4 cup oil, and 3 eggs, it is arguably the best banana bread ever. Sweet, freckled, moist, likely what you’d find if you looked “Perfect Banana Bread” up in the dictionary. To children of the ’80s–or whatever decade you call your own–I strongly advise you to bake up your own loaf of tropical paradise. For those who want a more authentic experience, watch this bizarre YouTube clip just before eating your first slice. This never would have been possible back in the ’80s.

beautiful banana bread

beautiful banana bread

by the slice

by the slice

delightful banana bread

I’m relatively new to blogging, so have had only a small taste of what folks are writing about. But I have noticed that banana bread gets a lot of press. Finding recipes for spotted bananas appeals to those who enjoy cooking and/or baking as we love food and are loath to throw it away.

A quick WordPress search for banana bread turned up oodles of recipes. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are blogs out there devoted entirely to this yummy quickbread and all its variations (scones, muffins, cakes, etc). Even in my short blogging life, I’ve written two posts with recipes using overripe bananas.

That said, Delightful Discoveries’ claim of  The Best Banana Bread Ever seemed a bold one. Always looking for an excuse to bake, I felt compelled to give his recipe a whirl. It was a basic banana bread recipe: no stir-ins, no whole wheat flour or other good-for-you grains. Though I prefer whole-grain baked goods, the case can also be made that some foods are best enjoyed in all their white flour, white sugar, egg, and butter glory. (Add sour cream in this case.)

These ingredients absolutely added up to crazy-good banana bread. It was everything this cake-passing-for-health-food should be: tender, sweet, buttery, fragrant. Calling it the definitive “best” would mean making lots of other banana breads and trying them all side-by-side, so we’ll never know. (Though that sounds like a fun project.) But it seemed the perfect loaf–what you’d see under “banana bread” in a dictionary.

My only deviation from the original recipe was to toss in a small package of blackberries that had to be used quickly if I didn’t want to have to toss them. (again, hate to throw out food) It added a fun blast of color and flavor, but the loaf would have been amazing without. It doesn’t need stir-ins or any other addition to shine. It may or not be the “best” (that’s not my call), but I will deem it Perfect.

Perfect Banana Bread à la Delightful Discoveries

with a few blackberries stirred in