Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ultimate banana bread

At least once a week, my husband asks me, "Why aren't we in Hawaii right now?" And my usual answer is that we have a 4-year old so travel to our favorite islands is a bit difficult at the moment. Then the conversation usually turns to food - malasadas, ahi tuna poke, Dole Whip, laulau, and other Hawaiian specialties.

Banana bread is also on the list. When we talk about banana bread, there is one place that is essentially the Holy Grail of banana breads. It's a little stand on the side of the road on the Road to Hana (on Maui). The little shack is located near the beginning of the trek to Hana, and the banana bread is out of this world. It is super moist, loaded with bananas and spices and best of all... contains NO NUTS!

I haven't been able to recreate that bread yet, but I saw this recipe at my mother in-law's. She subscribes to the All Recipes magazine, and this recipe caught my eye. It was called "Banana Banana Bread" and includes 2 and 1/3 cups of bananas. Wow.

This ultimate banana bread was loaded with banana flavor. It was thick, dense and moist like a banana bread should be.  The crust was slightly crispy and nicely contrasted the soft and chewy interior. Next time, I would increase the amount of cinnamon and add some nutmeg so it has more spice. I bet other add-ins like blueberries, raisins and dried cranberries would work really well too. Although the banana bread in Maui is still our favorite by far, this one comes in a close 2nd.

Ultimate banana bread
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (if you are using salted butter, omit the salt from above)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 and 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas (I needed about 6 medium-sized bananas)
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Generously grease a standard 9"x5" loaf pan and set aside (I used a silicone loaf pan and did not grease it).

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, cream together the butter and the brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and mix well. (Alternatively, you can mix all this together by hand if you don't want to dirty a mixer.)

Add the banana mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Gently fold in the bananas. Do not over mix.

Transfer to your prepared loaf pan and bake in your preheated oven for 60-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Bread should be stored at room temperature in an airtight container and will keep for several days. It can also be frozen and thawed. The bread is supposed to taste excellent toasted (don't forget to add Nutella!).

Yield: One 9"x5" loaf (about 10-12 slices)

Source: Ever so slightly adapted from All Recipes magazine, Dec 2013/Jan 2014 issue

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Blueberry zucchini bread

Our CSA has been delivering us yellow squash out the wazoo. We've been enjoying them grilled with a light coating of olive oil, salt and pepper. Since we started getting "squashed out," I decided to bake something with our remaining 2 yellow squash. I've made zucchini/squash bread before and wanted to try something new.

I remembered that we had a huge bag of frozen blueberries in the freezer and opted to make a blueberry zucchini (yellow squash) bread. We are huge fans of quick breads, so this would be something that the family would enjoy. I took this to my in-laws' house when we visited them earlier this month.

This bread was eaten very quickly, and I only ate a single slice before everybody else got to it. My husband exclaimed that he liked this bread because you couldn't tell that there were vegetables in it. I added extra blueberries in my bread to give some extra pops of color and flavor, so that is something that you can try too.

If you have an abundance of zucchini or squash this summer, give this bread a try. It will disappear in no time.

Blueberry zucchini bread
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour (can substitute with all-purpose)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 to 2 cups shredded zucchini or yellow squash
  • 1 to 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (I sprinkled extra blueberries on the top before baking)
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a standard 9"x5" loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, applesauce, vanilla extract, white and brown sugars. Mix until everything is well incorporated.

Gently whisk in the flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Do not overmix or else your bread will be tough.

Slowly and gently fold in the zucchini and blueberries. Save a few blueberries to add to the top.

Bake in your preheated oven for 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the bread to cool down before slicing and serving.

Bread should be stored in an airtight container (or tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and/or aluminum foil) at room temperature or in the refrigerator and will keep for several days. It can also be frozen and thawed.

Yield: One 9"x5" loaf pan (about 12-16 slices)

Source: Adapted from My Baking Addiction

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Skating Fridays

Axel breakthrough

I've been working hard at refining my axel jump recently. I have a tendency to "stork" my jumping leg in the air so the jump looks ugly and isn't fully correct.

Coach B had me doing a few exercises to combat this bad habit, and I dare say that it has been helping. I'm sure the physical therapy has been helping also, since it is strengthening the muscles surrounding my right knee.

I recently had a breakthrough with the axel after it seemed to have disappeared on me for a short while. I watched some axel videos from Tom Zakrajsek on icoachskating.com, and I got a "light bulb moment." It happened when Tom told skaters to bring their arms together prior to takeoff on the axel. This was not something that I had done previously.

After watching the video, I decided to try it on my own. After gliding on my backwards edge, I brought my right arm up to my left (if you are a counter-clockwise skater, you will need to reverse this), touched my hands together, bent my knee while pulling my arms backwards, and finally jumped.

I got so much more height and increased my flight time by tenfold. I almost felt like I was floating in the air. When I checked my tracings afterwards, the jump was clean. A senior-level skater even came up and complimented me on the jump. I asked her if my legs were crossed, and she said that it was, and that my jump was fully rotated.

Hooray! Next step... build up more speed and cover more distance with the jump.



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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Nigella's chocolate cheesecake

One dessert that my in-laws absolutely adore is Patty's white chocolate cheesecake. We visit them about twice a year, and they always ask me to make white chocolate cheesecake during our visit. Although I love the recipe, I thought it was time to stir things up and try something new. Knowing that my in-laws are cheesecake fans, I found Nigella's chocolate cheesecake recipe to try.

At first glance, I thought that it was odd how the cheesecake only contained 2 and a half packages of cream cheese. Most cheesecake recipes require at least 4 packages. I also found it weird that this cheesecake baked at 350 degrees for only 45 minutes, whereas most other recipes bake at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. Regardless, I followed Nigella's recipe and crossed my fingers.

Although this cheesecake reviewed rave reviews from my in-laws, it still wasn't as good as the white chocolate cheesecake that we love. My husband and I both agreed that the filling was a bit too soft and needed to be firmer. In fact, I think I would have preferred to freeze the cheesecake and eaten it straight from the freezer. Also, the chocolate flavor wasn't as rich or pronounced as we normally like our chocolates to taste, but it was still a solid dessert. I'll continue to look for the perfect chocolate cheesecake, but in the meantime, this one will suffice.

Oh, and apologies for the bad photo - I did not bring my good camera with me, so this was taken with my smart phone.

Nigella's chocolate cheesecake
Crust
  • 1 and 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 stick butter (4 TBSP), melted
  • 1 TBSP cocoa
Filling
  • 6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 and 1/2 cups cream cheese (2 and 1/2 packages or 20 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar (regular granulated sugar will work)
  • 1 TBSP custard powder (vanilla pudding mix will work)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon cocoa, dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
Ganache
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon dark corn syrup
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Use aluminum foil to wrap the underside and sides of a standard 10" springform pan (you can use a larger or smaller pan if needed). You want to make sure you cover any seams in case the butter leaks out.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and cocoa. Press it onto the sides of your springform pan . Set in the freezer.

Melt the 6 ounces of chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed with the paddle attachment until fluffy. Add the sugar and pudding powder until fully incorporated.

Add the eggs, egg yolks and sour cream and continue to beat. Finally, add the dissolved cocoa powder and melted chocolate until the mixture is smooth and uniform in color.

Pour the cheesecake filling into the springform pan and over the crust. Set a roasting pan with hot or boiling water on the bottom rack of your oven and set the springform pan on the middle rack. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until the top is set and the sides are still slightly jiggly.

Allow the cheesecake to cool completely before putting it in the refrigerator to chill. Cover loosely with tin foil and allow it to sit in the refrigerator for at least 4-6 hours, preferably overnight.

In a small saucepan set over low heat, or in a microwave-safe bowl, melt the 3 ounces of chocolate, heavy cream and corn syrup together. Whisk until you get a smooth sauce. You can either pour the ganache over the cheesecake and allow it to set (in the refrigerator) or drizzle some on top of individual slices while serving.

Cheesecake should be stored, covered, in the refrigerator and will keep for several days. It can also be frozen and thawed for later.

Yield: One 10" cheesecake (about 12-16 servings or more, if you want smaller slices)

Source: Nigella Lawson, via the Food Network

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Coconut oil peppermint patties


It's been super hot here on the East Coast so I have been trying not to turn on the oven too much. To satisfy my sweet tooth one Friday, I decided to try my hand at homemade peppermint patties. Sure, the store-bought ones are irresistible, but how much fun would it be to make them on my own?

I can eat these chocolate and minty candies until I am sick in the stomach but usually restrict myself to just one (OK, sometimes two). I like breaking them into fourths so I don't scarf the entire thing down in one bite.

These patties were ready to eat in about 30 minutes. They were minty, chocolate-y and a good palate cleanser after a meal. I liked the fact that they were made with coconut oil and didn't contain any preservatives or unpronounceable ingredients too. Mine turned out slightly too sweet because my coconut oil was just too oily, so I overcompensated by adding powdered sugar to thicken it up. As a result, my patties were too sugary... but I am not complaining.

If you wanted to, I'm sure you could set the peppermint filling in some silicone molds and make them into fun shapes (hearts, bells, squares, etc.). Get the little ones involved and have them dip into various colored chocolate or candy melts.


Coconut oil peppermint patties
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 cups powdered sugar (if needed)
  • 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (about half a bag)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vegetable or coconut oil


Directions
In a large bowl, whisk together the coconut oil, honey, peppermint extract, vanilla and salt together. You will need some elbow grease to mix this together. It should form a smooth paste-like substance. If it is too runny, add powdered sugar, about 1/2 a cup at a time.

Note: My mixture separated into two. One half was melted coconut oil, and the other half was the smooth and creamy paste-like mixture. I dumped out the oily half and kept the paste-like half.

Drop by teaspoonful onto a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper that is set on a freezer-safe plate or tray. You can shape them into balls and gently press down with a spatula to form a circle.  Transfer to a freezer for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate chips and oil in either a double boiler or microwave. Stir well until the chocolate is smooth.

Take the mint circles out of the freezer and drop into the melted chocolate. Coat on both sides and plate back onto the waxed paper or parchment paper. Transfer to the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Peppermint patties should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and will keep for at least 1 week.

Yield: 10 peppermint patties

Source: Slightly adapted from Classic Candy by Abigail Gehring

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Skating Fridays

Toe Pick!

Have you ever seen the 1992 figure skating movie, The Cutting Edge?  It is my all-time favorite skating movie, and I am proud to say that I saw it in the movie theaters twice when it premiered. My friend Abby and I quoted that movie non-stop even though she wasn't even a figure skater. Our favorite line, of course, was "Toe pick!" when the main male character kept tripping on his toe picks during his first skating practices with the lead female character.

Well, I am here to tell you that toe picks are indeed a tricky part of the blade. They will trip me up on occasion and did me in recently. You'd think that I'd be smarter than to allow these sharp, pointy devices to mess me up. You'd be wrong.

I was in the middle of a lesson during freestyle one day and was the oldest skater on the ice by at least 15 years. I ran through my program and had to do a series of tap toes during the following sequence. The next thing I knew, I fell forwards on the ice onto my injured knee. I was in such a state of shock that I just laid there for a good 30 seconds. My choreographer quickly came over and said something to the effect of, "Please tell me that isn't your injured knee." I nodded. Of course it was.

My knee turned the color of grape juice and swelled up to the size of a softball. In addition, my left arm was bleeding from skidding across the bumpy parts of the ice. The ice dance coach came over and literally lifted me up and put me on two feet. How embarrassing. Now I'll be known as "that adult skater whom the dance coach had to lift up" or "the clumsy adult skater who tripped on her toe picks." I'm surprised nobody yelled "toe pick!" at me. That would have been funny.

My therapist saw me a few days afterwards and said, "What happened?!"  I told him that I had fallen, but thankfully I didn't cause further damage to my already tender knees. A week later, he complimented me on the lovely shade of yellow that the bruise had turned.

So I guess the lesson here today is that you need to watch out for those dang toe picks. Otherwise, you'll be dealing with a bruised body and a bruised ego.

#toepick

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Strawberries and cream popsicles

A few weeks ago, my family and I attended a local street food festival. Over 50 local restaurants set up tents in the middle of downtown and offered $3 tasting plates. When we asked Addie what she wanted to eat, she said without hesitation, "mac and cheese!" Being the wonderful parents that we are (ha!), we found some tents that offered mac and cheese and bought some for Addie.

When she was finished with her plate, Addie said that she wanted a popsicle. We passed by at least two vendors who offered them and she quickly followed her dad to the nearest one. Addie kept saying that she wanted a strawberry popsicle, but this particular popsicle vendor did not offer that flavor. Addie settled for a raspberry banana popsicle and demolished it in about 1 minute flat.

Although Addie got to eat her popsicle that day, I felt bad that she didn't get a strawberry one like she wanted. Since the weather is slowly getting warmer and the air conditioning has officially been turned on, it was time to dust off the popsicle mold from the pantry and make some popsicles. Obviously, I wanted to make some strawberry popsicles for my little girl.

I happened to have a container of plain Greek yogurt that came with a small compartment of honey to mix in. I intended to bring it to lunch one day but forgot. So I decided to mix this with some strawberry puree and create some strawberries and cream popsicles for us to enjoy. The best part (other than seeing Addie's face, of course) is that this recipe only makes 3 popsicles. No leftovers - which means that I have an excuse to try another flavor.

Strawberries and cream popsicles
  • 1 cup strawberries, washed and stemmed
  • 1 5.3-ounce container Greek yogurt (I used FAGE 2% plain Greek yogurt with honey*)
  • 3-4 teaspoons honey (only if you are not using Greek yogurt with honey)
  • 5 TBSP milk of choice
* Note that this is the Greek yogurt that has two compartments - one with the yogurt and one containing honey. If you buy the honey-flavored Greek yogurt, you may need to add extra honey to obtain the amount of sweetness you desire.

Directions
Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender (I used my Blendtec and put it on the "smoothie" setting). Transfer puree to popsicle molds or paper/plastic cups with a popsicle stick in the middle.

Freeze for at least 4-6 hours or until the popsicles are frozen. Enjoy!

Yield: 3 (6-ounce) popsicles

Source: An Eva Bakes original

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