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 🙂

foodie art

The premise of this blog has always been to highlight my fun food finds. Totally subjective, I suppose, but the hope is that there are others who share my sense of what is fun. Posts most often include thoughts on restaurant meals or food made at home along with occasional mention of a cookbook or cocktail. Today, I widen the scope and write up my youngest daughter’s art project.

This year, I signed on as “art helper” in my first-grader’s classroom. (Extremely ironic if you know me, as I’m not artistic at all.) Another mom plans and leads the lessons; my job is to help with set-up, clean up, and everything that happens in between. Today the kids were learning about Frida Kahlo and her still-life paintings. Kahlo is my all-time favorite painter. (I didn’t say I didn’t appreciate art, just that I’m not good at it.) She led an extraordinary and fascinating life and I was looking forward to seeing what the lesson would involve.

As any lesson for a class of six-year-olds should be, this one was simple. A nicely put-together fruit bowl sat in the front of the class as inspiration and the students were given cut-up fruit along with same-color paint.

fruit as inspiration

supplies needed

They stamped fruit onto their papers, then glued on  pre-cut “table” and “bowl.” Nothing to it. I enjoyed watching the kids build their fruit bowls (most were pretty crazy) and loved the idea of stamping fruit patterns using real fruit.

final project

As I saw the paint-soaked fruit pieces piling up in the trash, I cringed at so much uneaten food being thrown away. What a waste, right? But I quickly realized that the fruit had most decidedly not been wasted. It had been used to teach kids about an influential artist and it had been used to make sweet little fruit bowls that would adorn school walls, then eventually hang on refrigerators. The fruit may not have been eaten, but it made something beautiful happen. How fun is that?

sweet scones

Minneapolis’ St. Martin’s Table closed a few years back. This small, nonprofit cafe served up vegetarian fare for 26 years and shared space with a small bookstore, also a part of the faith-based St. Martin’s Community. Servers were volunteer, with tips going to a staff-picked charity-of-the-month. Eating at this restaurant always felt good as you knew your dining dollars were making a difference, but the food alone was worth the visit.

Each day’s menu offered a handful of sandwiches, soups, and salads; all were served with the most amazing honey-whole wheat bread. With the restaurant shuttered, the bread–and all of their other delish offerings–are a thing of a past. Almost.

My mom had bought a copy of the restaurant’s cookbook: from the kitchens of St. Martin’s Table and has generously passed it on to me. This humble spiral-bound cookbook holds many of the restaurant’s homespun recipes and I’m thrilled to have it. I make myself a loaf of the honey-whole wheat whenever I need to be extra good to myself. I’ll post the bread another day, but tonight we talk scones.

With too many blueberries (is there really such a thing?) in the produce drawer, scones were in my very near future. St. Martin’s Table’s cookbook has a recipe for Jennifer’s Scones. (Apparently, “Jennifer was a kitchen goddess at SMT during 1998.”) Though I’d never had scones at St. Martin’s Table, I was sure they’d be winners.

The recipe was for plain scones (though I used white whole wheat flour to add whole grain), but also noted that up to 1 1/2 cups stir-in (blueberries!) could be added. I knew I was pushing it by adding so much fresh fruit as the extra moisture would make for a longer bake time. While the scones did take more than 20 extra minutes in the oven, they were worth it. Instead of brushing the dough with cream and sprinkling with sugar, I sprinkled the unbaked scones with coarse sugar and sea salt. If St. Martin’s Table was still around, I’d bet they’d have done the same. The oats put these scones in the “healthy breakfast” category (in my book anyway), but they’re easily enjoyed anytime you want a tasty, but not overly sinful, baked good.

Jennifer’s Scones

From St. Martin’s Table cookbook. Recipe notes that up to 1 1/2 cups optional stir-in can be added before stirring in the buttermilk.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into cubes
  • 3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk (I used 3/4 cup as the blueberries added plenty of extra moisture.)

Heat oven to 350°F.

In bowl, mix dry ingredients. Cut in butter until mixture looks like fine granules. Stir in buttermilk until dough is moistened.

Place wet dough on floured work surface; knead 3 to 5 times to form 8-inch circle. Transfer to ungreased baking sheet. Brush with cream and sprinkle with sugar as desired. Cut into 8 wedges. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

the watermelon saga continues

It wasn’t too long ago that I was dealing with an overabundance of watermelon. Today, I came upon another way to enjoy this summertime favorite. Looking for Popsicles in the freezer, I spotted a bag of frozen watermelon cubes. How long they’d been there, I don’t know as I’m not good about dating frozen foods (though I know it’s smart to do so). But I figured it was time to move the watermelon out. My girls are fans of the slushies (slurpies?) sold at convenience stores; this frozen fruit was my ticket to a slushie/slurpie I could feel good about them drinking.

The frozen watermelon cubes went into a plastic pitcher along with lemon juice, water, and a handful of sugar. I used my stick blender (love love love my stick blender) to puree, then played with water, lemon juice, and sugar amounts until the flavors balanced. I liked it ok, though neither of my daughters was overly excited about it. The texture was there, but the flavor seemed a bit flat. I let it go and stuck the pitcher away in the freezer.

Later in the day, it hit me that lime juice was exactly what the watermelon puree needed. That extra layer of citrus really made a difference–the flavors were brilliant. I’d bet that this watermelon slush would make a most excellent adult beverage mixed with vodka, rum, or gin. Tonight we kept it kid-friendly, though, and beat the heat with watermelon slushies/slurpies that were so much more than colored sugar water.

watermelon slush

strawberry-turned-peach cake

When peaches are in season, I overbuy. Then, it’s a race to eat them all–or bake with them–before they go bad. Thanks to Meatballs & Milkshakes, I met this challenge today. The peaches that were starting to go soft in my refrigerator fruit drawer were destined for the strawberry cake this blog author just posted.

Be sure to link back to Meatballs & Milkshakes for the recipe and lovely photos. My cake looks different as I used a lot more peaches than she did strawberries–nearly 4 cups fruit total. The cake baked much longer than the one hour in her recipe and was still extremely moist, much like a pudding cake in the center. Also, I used lime zest instead of lemon (about 2 teaspoons) and sprinkled some on the cake just before baking. Hence the greenish flecks.

Flavorwise, this cake was a knockout. I went back for multiple servings and had a hard time cutting myself off. Rich, buttery, but also chock full of amazing fruit. I’ll be serving it up for breakfast tomorrow for sure. Thanks m&m!

before hitting the oven

out of the oven

peach cake on the plate

Many thanks also to Lilly Sue and her Bites and Brews. Lilly Sue was kind enough to nominate me for the Versatile Blogger Award for which I’m most grateful:-) I’ve seen this award make its rounds and am tickled to have it come my way. Yay! It’s been great fun to put my food stories out there and it’s a kick (in a very good way) to know others are reading it.

Also want to congratulate Lilly Sue on receiving the award herself. She has a great voice, covering the beer and culinary scene in Colorado. I’ve enjoyed following her posts: great stories, great photos, great music clips. Check her out and you’ll agree that she has excellent taste in food, drink, and music.

In keeping with Versatile Blogger tradition, I’m listing 15 bloggers to nominate for this same award.

The final “requirement” for accepting the nomination is to list seven things about myself.

  1. I’ve tried to like kiwi, but to no avail.
  2. Though I’ve written about my aversion to fast food chains, I have a soft spot for McDonald’s ice cream cones. And I do love my DQ.
  3. I’ve recently discovered Baron Ambrosia’s Culinary Adventures on Cooking Channel and it cracks me up.
  4. Even with all of the amazing recipes available online, I’m still partial to my old-school, hardcopy cookbooks.
  5. I’m not on Facebook, though am working on a page for my business.
  6. When I left my college apartment, I didn’t have to clean the stove because I NEVER USED IT. Yes, I have a Food Science degree, but I didn’t learn how to cook until after I graduated.
  7. A favorite college internship: Working on the Recipe Search Team for the Pillsbury Bake-Off. (Won’t mention the year–haha)

Versatile Blogger Award – Rules for Winners

1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to their blog.
2. Choose fifteen blogs to nominate and let them know by leaving a comment.
3. Request that the chosen blogs pass on the award to their favorite fifteen.
4. Copy and paste the award on your blog post.
5. List seven things about yourself.

pink sugar

I recently bought a huge watermelon (my girls made me do it 😉 ) and realized once home that there was no room in the refrigerator. Crammed full with farmers’ market produce and gifts of food from our neighbor, our fridge was no place for a 20-pound watermelon. What had I been thinking?

Figuring it would store more easily sliced, I cut wedges for supper and was ready to bag the rest. But as I slid slices into a large ziploc, I remembered our dehydrator.

Pre-kids, I used to dehydrate large quantities of Roma tomatoes. The seeding and slicing took time, but once the slices were on the dehydrator trays, it was a simple 24-hour wait for sweet tomato “chips.” I loved watching five-plus pounds of tomatoes shrink down to fit into a quart-size plastic bag and I could easily polish off this amount in one sitting (had the canker sores to prove it). Sweet and tangy, with just a slight chew, these tomatoes were worlds apart from the sun-dried tomatoes available in grocery stores. These dried tomatoes were pure gold.

Post-kids, the dehydrator comes out only once a summer or so and rarely for tomatoes. The prep is just too much. But drying watermelon is an easy task. I’ve enjoyed the results the few times I’ve tried it and realized that THIS was the answer to my storage problem.

The watermelon was sliced and laid on dehydrator trays that had been sprayed with cooking spray. (I learned the hard way that cooking spray makes for easier cleanup.) Fast forward 24 hours and I had amazing fruit leather-like watermelon chews. I prefer this homemade dried watermelon to the fresh stuff as it’s pure watermelon flavor–no water to dilute. The texture is slightly dry and slightly sticky; there’s a “chew” you won’t find in storebought fruit leathers. I gave a few slices to a colleague who loved it and gave me the title for this post. (Thanks, Megan!)

in the beginning

sliced and ready to dry

about 10 hours in

all dried up

watermelon leather

Postscript: My husband, like many men, enjoys tinkering. His “tinker” tonight was to put a slice of dried watermelon in the freezer. Five minutes later it was crispy and brittle–entirely different from what it was and very candy-like. I picture shards of frozen dried watermelon sprinkled over vanilla ice cream. Classy and fun.

peanut butter, banana, chocolate

Having recently received a large bag of dried banana chips, I wanted to find a use for them outside of eating as-is or tossing with granola. An online search got me thinking about using them for baking. A few recipes included them in banana bread, which intrigued me. Because peanut butter and chocolate seem a good fit with banana, I wanted to build a quick bread that incorporated all three flavors.

Banana chips in banana bread seemed redundant and chocolate bread was more indulgence than I needed. This left me looking for a peanut butter bread recipe. My cookbook collection includes a 1970s-esque Jif Peanut Butter recipe booklet (complete with ’70s-style food photos), which was where I found a simple and delicious peanut butter bread recipe. I tossed a large handful of coarsely chopped dried banana chips and a slightly smaller amount of coarsely chopped chocolate (mix of semisweet and dark) into the batter and was thrilled with the result.

The bread itself is rich and peanutty, but adding chocolate (always a good idea) and banana chips elevated it to another level of yum. The banana flavor is only there when you bite into a chip, but it’s a lovely subtle hit when you do. And the slight chew of these chips–they don’t get squishy like raisins do–adds texture contrast.

I find myself having a slice (or two) for breakfast, munching on it between meals, then considering it a dessert at the end of the day. It needs no embellishment, but a small bit of grape jelly bumps up the sweetness and if I’m really wanting to gild lilies, a touch of butter rounds out the flavor very nicely. It’s been a fun bread to discover and am happy to have found a use for my bag of banana chips.

Peanut Butter Bread with Banana Chips and Chocolate

Based on a recipe found in Jif® Choosy Mothers’ Peanut Butter Cookbook (1979)

  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter (Jif’s recipe called for creamy, but I used chunky)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup coarsely chopped dried banana chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped chocolate bar

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease 9-inch loaf pan.

In bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add peanut butter; cut in with fork or two knives until crumbly. Add egg and milk; stir just until dry ingredients are incorporated. Gently stir in banana chips and chocolate. Pour batter into pan; bake 1 hour or until wooden pick inserted near center of loaf comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

out-of-this-world peanut butter bread

adventures in grape juice

I’ve written before about our neighbors’ food drops and the fun it is to get an unexpected box of unknown foods. Yesterday we got grapes–red, green, seeded, and seedless. With young kids in the house, you’d think these grapes would be an easy sell. But the grapes are just past prime (meaning my girls will pass) and there’s no way I’m going to remove the pits from the seeded grapes. Life is too short.

Thinking the grapes would end up in the compost, I lamented that I wished there was something that could be done with our oodles of grapes. They seem not as versatile as overripe pears, apples, berries, or bananas. My 5-year-old overheard my lament and asked, “Why not squeeze them to make grape juice, mommy?” Brilliant. Why not indeed?

I’ve made grape juice from vine grapes before, but never supermarket grapes. Figuring the principle would be the same, I washed them, removed most of the stems, then added them to a large pot with a few cups of water. The pot was covered and the water brought to a boil. I then uncovered the pot and reduced the heat. The grapes simmered for an hour or so, filling the house with the fragrance of sweet grape.

Next step was straining the juice through cheesecloth. My husband has come up with a good set-up for this: The four corners of the large cheesecloth square are secured with a rubber band, then the rubber band is twisted a few more times before being hung on a cabinet knob right above the bowl collecting the juice. The juice drip-drops into the bowl for a few hours, then the cheesecloth “bag” is squeezed a time or two to extract all the flavorful nectar.

pale pink undiluted grape juice

The final juice is refrigerated or frozen and can be diluted and sweetened as desired for drinking as-is or used as a base for jelly-making. This batch was a pretty pink; made from green grapes as well as purple, it was not the usual violet-purple hue. It was sweet and syrupy–for sure will need dilution with a bit of club soda to brighten it up. I plan to use some of it for drinking and most of it for jelly.

In the end, I like knowing that the food will remain in our kitchen and be used and enjoyed instead of ending up in the compost bin. Thank you to my 5-year-old daughter for turning my grape dilemma into a grape adventure.


Had a long morning. Was able to squeeze a gym trip in before heading off to church where my youngest was in the children’s musical. Next, off to the mall for lunch, hair cuts, and shoes. The girls weren’t especially poorly behaved, but I was feeling tapped when we got home. I was unhappy with my oldest, who was whining about not getting the same shoes as her sister. My repeated encouragement/scolding that she focus on what she does have rather than what she doesn’t seems to always fall on deaf ears.

As it often does, though, food turned things around for me. We returned home to our neighbor’s gift of a large box packed full with pints of fresh berries: blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries. And some grapes and mixed greens thrown in for good measure. These neighbors occasionally bring us leftover food from their church and I’m excited each time we get a box. Holy CSA, Batman! Often it’s organic produce, dairy, or eggs. But never the same collection of food. (Have 10 green bell peppers in my refrigerator right now; need a good stuffed pepper recipe.) I love this gift of food because it’s bounty. It’s excess. It’s generosity. I’m ever appreciative and often bring the neighbors part of whatever I make with their gifts. Today, their gift helped me build up what was torn down. I’ll be making jam with the berries and our neighbors can expect a jar or three.

Berry Jam (from the 2009 Ball Blue Book guide to preserving)

  • 9 cups crushed berries
  • 6 cups sugar

In large saucepan, combine berries and sugar. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Cook rapidly to gelling point (220°F at sea level or when jam breaks from spoon in a sheet or flake), stirring more frequently as jam thickens to prevent sticking. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot jam into sterile, hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Seal with sterile canning lid and ring. Process 15 minutes in boiling-water canner.*

*I’ve yet to purchase a canner, so for now make do with sterilizing canning equipment in the dishwasher, then “processing” the filled and sealed jars in a stockpot of boiling water. I do have a canning jar funnel and lifter to make filling and transporting the jars to and from the boiling water easier. If you’re new to canning, read through canning instructions well before starting. For a fairly simple process, there’s a lot to it and after all of the hands-on time you’re putting into it (not to mention the fantastic fresh produce you’re using), it’s not something you want to mess up.