This post is bananas

Incidentally, this post is also nuts. Well, chock full of nuts. I’ve gone bananas for nuts? (Thank you, thank you. I’ll see myself out.)

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I love bananas in every stage of ripeness, but there is a certain magic quality that brown bananas have, full of sweetness and possibility. My favorite use for ripe bananas has always been banana bread, mostly because there are so many different recipes out there to try and they’re all fairly adaptable.

With bananas going brown on the counter, I popped onto the siggi’s website hoping that my new favorite yogurt would have a suggestion for my perpetual favorite baked good. Much to my delight, they did!

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The recipe calls for their vanilla filmjölk, which is a very unique pourable yogurt that is similar to kefir. It’s slightly tangy and is often used in place of buttermilk to lighten up recipes. I like to pour it over muesli for breakfast, but I’d never cooked with it before so this was a welcome experiment.

The only adjustment I made to the recipe was replacing the chopped walnuts with chopped peanuts. This was because of an allergy in our house, but I must say that I think the banana bread tastes even better with peanuts in it. I’ve mentioned their site before, but I love having pre-chopped peanuts from Nuts.com in the pantry for days like this. All I had to do was measure and pour, which made the baking process a snap.

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Per usual, I didn’t really measure the amount of spices and probably gave my banana bread a heartier dose of cinnamon than is called for. If you’re feeling punchy you could add a bit of ground ginger as well, or even your favorite mix of pumpkin pie spice.

For me it came out perfectly after 50 minutes of cooking and was delicious both warm the night I made it and also the next day slathered in peanut butter for breakfast. Because obviously I needed even more peanut-y goodness.

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Originally, this was meant to be the end of my post. But in delaying my writing by a week I ended up having a few more bananas go brown on me. In fact, these seemed to beg to be baked, going directly from green to brown overnight.

For those who are new to working with exceptionally ripe bananas, I wanted to take this photo to show you that they are not nearly as unappealing on the inside as they may seem on the outside. However, the peels will be rather… odorous, so it’s best to either put them in an outside trashcan or at least in an extra bag within your kitchen trash.

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Recipe for 4-Ingredient Banana Oat Bars

The great thing about these oat bars is that, provided you use certified oats, they are completely gluten free and also dairy free. I have made them in the past with different combinations of dried fruits and nuts, but this time I went with chopped dates and the same peanuts I used in the banana bread.

The recipe is from the kitchn, and I would recommend you head over to her site and follow the instructions exactly. The only change I made was adding about 1-2 tsp of honey for just a little bit more sweetness. I included the vanilla and the salt, and put cinnamon both in the batter and sprinkled on top.

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Because I used three bananas instead of two (waste not, want not) my bars came out slightly more thick than hers. I’ve made them in the past with fewer bananas and they come out thinner and crispy on the edges. That being said, I actually like these thicker bars. It makes them feel more like an anytime dessert rather than a snack bar. Since mine by nature have more moisture I decided to store them in the fridge rather than the pantry.

I currently have a new batch of bananas ripening in the fruit bowl, and something tells me I’ll probably have at least two brown ones again in the next week. So if you have a favorite recipe for very ripe bananas, I’m all ears! Let me know in the comments and I’d love to try out something different for a follow-up post.

Happy baking!

 

Quick and easy cornbread

We’re now entering my absolute favorite (part of a) season – the second half of autumn. Mornings and evenings are extra crisp, and the days are just cool enough to necessitate a sweatshirt. There’s something invigorating about weather that gives you goosebumps but stops short of making you shiver. And being the vampire that I am, it’s also quite enjoyable to have the sun’s intensity dialed down.

With hibernation on the horizon, it’s nice to have a comfort food recipe on hand that’s easy enough to make on a weeknight and also healthy enough to complement the inactivity of all-day Netflix marathons. (Speaking of marathons, I undertook a massive one last weekend, the result of which will be heading your way soon.)

The ingredient that makes my cornbread both fluffy and healthy is yogurt. And lots of it. Yogurt is a great substitute for butter or oil when you’re making quick breads, of which cornbread is my favorite. In the past I’ve used regular plain yogurt, but this time around I used siggi’s plain skyr and the result was magical.

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For starters, it’s very thick and ridiculously creamy. It’s also fat free, and the 1 cup needed to make the cornbread adds an impressive 23 grams of protein to the batch. When you consider the additional protein from the egg and the cornmeal, this means that there’s about 5 grams per piece. (Not exact nutritional science, but a good approximation.)

Start by preheating your oven to 375°F and spraying an 8 inch round baking pan with nonstick spray. I prefer to use the baking spray that has a bit of flour in it, but if you want to make sure this is gluten free just grease your pan however you please.

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In a large bowl mix together 1 cup cornmeal1 tsp baking powder1/2 tsp baking soda, and 1/2 tsp salt. Even though I’ve made this bread so many times I don’t need to consult the recipe, I somehow always get paranoid that I’ve mixed up the amounts of baking powder and baking soda and end up triple-checking my recipe notes anyway. Feel free to skip the paranoia.

In a smaller bowl, combine 1 cup plain yogurt1 egg, and 1/3 cup coconut palm sugar. The sweetener you use is also adaptable. Coconut sugar has a deeper flavor, closer to molasses, and will give the cornbread a much darker caramel color. The reason I like to use it is because coconut sugar is a natural sweetener that purportedly has a lower glycemic index than white sugar, though I have yet to read a scientific study that proves that to be absolutely true. From personal experience, I can say that it seems to me to be more slowly digested.

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If you want your cornbread to have that familiar bright yellow color and just a hint of sweetness, I’ve successfully made this recipe before with both regular granulated sugar and Splenda. The bread does seem to come out just a bit more dry if you use Splenda, so keep a close eye on the cooking time.

Fold your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients, and mix thoroughly so that there are no dry pockets. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until it passes the toothpick test. The cooking time will depend mostly on your oven, but also on your choice of sweetener. Splenda tends to be closer to the 15 minute mark for me, while this batch with the coconut sugar took the full 20 minutes to bake.

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If you’re anxious to dig in you can cut this right away, but it’s less likely to crumble if you can hold your horses and wait five minutes. Trust me when I say I know there are some days where waiting is just not going to happen, and that’s ok. Cut the cornbread into 8 wedges to serve, and since there’s no butter in the mix I feel good about putting a little bit on top.

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If for some reason all the wedges do not get eaten immediately I store leftovers in the refrigerator. Leftover wedges can be reheated to eat on their own, or I find they’re great for dipping into hot stew or chili straight from the fridge.

Faking it – Seltzer cake

A long time ago (in a blogosphere far far away) I wrote up a post about making cupcakes using diet soda, a pastime that was oh-so-chic on the internet of 2010. I honestly have no clue what made me remember that baking escapade, but I think it was probably something to do with the way this week’s gloomy weather made me want to eat cake.

Since my home is filled to the brim with La Croix (yes, I am one of those people) I thought it would be fun to attempt the same cake magic using seltzer instead of soda. If it’s the bubbles that makes the process work, why not seltzer? You get the fat/calorie benefit of not adding eggs or oil and also the no artificial sweetener benefit of not using soda. And while I’m aware that boxed cake mix is not exactly clean eating, turning it into a less-guilty pleasure while also trimming back the preservatives sounds like a win to me.

The first step of this process is to gather your ingredients.

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Yep. That’s it. Two ingredients – 1 box of cake mix and 12oz of seltzer. I’d stick to cakes that have pudding in the mix, which seems to be most of them. I chose vanilla as a standard base flavor to build on. From the many flavors of La Croix I settled on Apple Berry because it sounded seasonally appropriate.

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Find yourself a ridiculously large bowl, because this is going to foam up like one of those school science project volcanos. Mix it together until you have a smooth batter and pour it into your pan of choice. I was going to make cupcakes as a comparison but I got super lazy (seriously, this perpetual drizzle is exhausting) and decided to just tip it into a 13×9 pan and see what happened.

The end result? A cake that was light and fluffy, sort of an angel food cake hybrid. I thought I could detect a faint hint of berry flavor, but mostly it just tasted like cake. Which is a success!

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The nutritional info will change depending on the type of cake mix you use. If I only cut this into 10 pieces (which I think seems like huge pieces) the nutritional stats per piece will look exactly like what’s written on the box.  This is because there are no additional calories/fat/etc. added to the mix. Realistically, I think the stats could be even lower, especially if you portion it into cupcakes.

Stats via bettycrocker.com

Stats via bettycrocker.com

I forgot that my original recipe suggested adding 5-10 minutes to the baking time, so I just baked this according to the package directions. It’s cooked through, but I think an extra 10 minutes would probably help firm up the texture a bit and help it retain structure when you cut into it. Especially if you’re planning on baking two round cakes and layering them.

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When it comes to icing, I highly recommend the Cool Whip version I outline in the original post, but not having those ingredients on hand I thought I’d extend the experiment to making myself a single serving of topping. I mixed together about 2Tb of lowfat cream cheese, 1/2tsp (ish, I wasn’t strictly measuring) of vanilla protein powder, and a little splash of milk just to thin it out a bit. Not as good as the original, but in a pinch it was still pretty tasty.

If you decide to bake up a batch of seltzer cake, I’d love to know what flavor combinations you use and how it turns out!

Leftover makeover – Breakfast egg bake

I’m always at a bit of a loss when it comes to figuring out what to do with leftovers. Sure, you can pop them in the microwave and eat them again, but then you’re really just eating a sub-par version of the thing you ate the day before. (Unless you had soup. That reheats like a champ.)

I decided I’d try merging together last night’s dinner with this morning’s breakfast, and I’m very pleased with the results. It’s a pretty simple process, and you could use all sorts of things for the base. I happened to have roasted sweet potatoes, but that bottom layer could be any cooked vegetables, rice, beans, or even a bit of pasta. In fact, I think pasta would work splendidly.

To start, preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease a ceramic dish with your oil of choice (I went with a bit of olive), and add your bottom layer of food.

Roasted sweet potatoes

Then, put a few spoonfuls of something tomato-based on top of your bottom layer. I used salsa, but you could also use tomato sauce, chopped fresh tomatoes, bruschetta topping, etc.

Potatoes and salsa

Since these leftovers are presumably coming out of the fridge, put the dish in the oven to heat up the bottom layers. 7-10 minutes should do the trick, but this will vary based on what you use for your base. It’s not an exact science, so don’t sweat it. Whatever food you’re using has already been cooked previously, so you’re just warming it.

Take the dish out of the oven and sit it on a heat-proof surface (e.g. the stovetop or a folded dish towel on the counter). I had a slightly larger ceramic container so I was able to crack two eggs into the dish. If you only have ramekins you can follow the same steps, dividing the ingredients between two small ramekins and cracking one egg into each ramekin.

Baked eggs

On top of the eggs I sprinkled salt and pepper, then added a bit of shredded cheese. This part is very adaptable as well. Want to keep it paleo? Skip the cheese. Want to give it more bite? Add chopped scallions or a handful of fresh herbs. Want more spice? Dot the top with some Sriracha.

Eggs and cheese

Put the dish back in the oven and cook for 10-15 minutes, essentially until the whites are just set and the yolks are soft. The cooking time depends on how runny you like your yolks, and also a bit on how reliable your oven temperature is. I cooked mine for 12 minutes and it was the perfect consistency for me. There was a little bit of liquid from the salsa, so just take a look when you take it out of the oven to make sure you’re seeing salsa liquid and not uncooked egg whites.

Baked eggs

All that’s left to do is grab a spoon and dig in! If you’re a wheat-eater, feel free to dip some toast in this bad boy. Want to dip without the wheat? Rip a corn tortilla into strips and go to town.

From start to finish this took me about 20 minutes, which is a perfectly respectable amount of time to spend making weekend breakfast.

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Snow day sampler

A three-day weekend (thanks, dead presidents) has now turned into a four-day weekend (thanks, snow), which means I’ve had lots of time to write. Just kidding, it means I’ve plowed through my Netflix watch list and clicked my way through at least 60% of the internet. It’s possible I also watched the first two Twilight movies on ABC Family while drinking bourbon and questioning my life choices.

So, in no particular order, here’s a collection of things I’ve spent time on.

Stuffing food in my face

I promise, it tastes better than it looks.

I promise, it tastes better than it looks.

I’ve been messing around in the kitchen, and come up with a few gems. In trying to make myself a not sad Valentine’s Day dinner for one, I somehow thought microwave cooking was the answer. I took my recipe for quinoa flakes, swapped the milk for chicken broth, and added celery salt, garlic, parsley, Parmesan and tuna.

On the flavor scale I’d give it a 7 – nice and creamy, kind of like risotto, all in all an enjoyable meal. On the sadness scale I’d give it a 9, but this is probably because I ate it directly out of the microwave-safe bowl while watching an insufferable teenage girl choose between two metaphors disguised as abs.

I also found a not-so-guilty cookie recipe that I think I like even better than the one I’ve blogged about previously. This new one has a combination of almond and coconut flours, which leaves the cookies softer. Not quite like a soft-baked chocolate chip cookie (more like cookie-cake) but still tasty. I used coconut palm sugar as my sweetener and Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips.

Movies, movies and more movies

I’ll be honest, I spend so much time watching Netflix that I’m starting to scrape the bottom of the streaming barrel. There were a few films that had just been sitting in my queue gathering dust, so I figured I’d spend my weekend watching through them. The only film that I genuinely enjoyed was John Dies At The End. It’s a really refreshing addition to the horror genre (or I guess, more accurately, the horror-comedy genre) that had me simultaneously grossed out and laughing out loud.

Movies that I now can, without any hesitation, tell you not to bother watching include HickMr. Nobody, and World War Z. That last one really disappointed me, because I enjoyed the book immensely. The movie is absolutely nothing like the book, except for the fact that there are zombies in it.

I’d say maybe give Electrick Children a try if you like coming-of-age stories and magical realism. I’m not much a fan of either, so the film wasn’t really for me. However, I did really like the song that plays as a constant refrain throughout.

So much internet

Even on a regular day, I spend more time online than is probably medically advisable. More so on the weekend, and monumentally more so on a long weekend (now an even longer weekend, as I’ve found out since starting this post that my office is closed tomorrow too).

long-weekend

The past few weeks I’ve been working on a little Twitter side project as a sort of snark outlet. I get an email every day from one of those daily deal sites, and while sometimes there are actual bonafide deals, there’s mostly just bizarre dreck. So, I gather up the weirdest of the weird and post one every day. It’s nice to have something that prods me to write each day, even if it’s just a snappy caption.

Because obviously I’m not spending enough time as it is watching moving pictures, I’ve also been catching up on some of my favorite YouTube channels (and watching some of their back catalogs that I haven’t seen yet).

And catching up on current events.

Faking it – Crock pot apple crumble

Pumpkin is, without question, the star of the Thanksgiving season. It’s versatile, preserves well, and easy to incorporate into both sweet and savory dishes. But I’m not here to talk about pumpkins.

The thing is, as much as I love pumpkin in almost anything, I don’t like pumpkin pie. I’ve never been a fan, which is remarkably strange considering I love pumpkin bread and cookies and cakes. Every few years I try a bite, just in case my palate has changed (so far it hasn’t). Needless to say, this results in an underwhelming end to every Thanksgiving meal.

In hunting around for an alternative option, I stumbled across an ingenious solution. Rather than overwork the oven, you can use the crock pot to slow-cook dessert while you’re eating dinner.

Chopped apples with cinnamon

Using this recipe as a base, I made just a few little adjustments based on what I had on hand. (The fact that she starts out the post talking about taking a break from pumpkin was a very good sign.) While I’m sure it’s delicious with a light dusting of crumble, I found that doubling the amount of topping gave an even cover over the whole pot. If you’re going to indulge in butter-toasted goodness, you may as well commit to doing it like a proper glutton.

Start out by giving the crock pot a light coating of buttery nonstick spray (or your nonstick coating of choice). Take 4-6 apples (I used Honeycrisp), peel them, chop them into rough chunks, and throw them into that slippery slow cooker. Add a bunch of cinnamon and toss to coat.

Apple crumble topping

In a separate bowl, mix together 1/2 cup almond flour1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts, and spices to taste (for me that was cinnamon and ground ginger). If you would like your topping to be sweet, you could also add in some brown sugar or Splenda. Stir it well, then toss in 1/4 cup butter that has been chopped into smaller bits.

Use a pastry cutter to combine it all, then spread that delightful nutty ambrosia over the top of the apples. Cover the crock pot and cook on low for 2-3 hours. Leaving it in for closer to 3 hours means the apples will be soft and gooey. If you prefer your apples to still have a bit of bite to them, 2 hours should do the trick. I’ve tried the finished product on its own, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and drizzled with cream (the things I do for my readers) and I can attest that all are equally great ways to enjoy it.

I am so winning at homemade goodness today. Apple crumble from the slow cooker. #nom

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As an added bonus, thanks to the use of various nuts instead of flour, this is a gluten free way to end the Thanksgiving meal. It’s also hypothetically paleo-friendly, provided you’re the type of paleo person who makes allowances for butter, and low carb if you don’t add any sugar. Most importantly, it’s just straight-up delicious.

The hibernation of the mind

I have two basic states of being – creating and consuming – and I’ve found that they tend to be mutually exclusive. The interpretation of either state is relatively broad, but the main constant is that they remain separate. When I was younger, the transition was seamless. I would write feverishly for fifteen minutes, then pick up a book and read for an hour before going back to writing. It was a reflex, a natural jump from pen to paperback.

Now, I need to make a much more conscious effort to get myself from consuming to creating. It’s tempting to just place blame on the passage of time, to say that nothing is as simple as it was twenty years ago. Which, to be fair, is true. But I don’t think age is the issue so much as the time constraints of adulthood. Working full time means that I have limited free time and there’s only so much I can pack in.

As evidenced by the gap in posts, I’ve spent the past month voraciously consuming. Sometimes several books in a day (though the multi-book days were decidedly YA fiction) and quite a bit of film and television on top of that. There have been many times when I told myself I should sit down and write, but I’ve found it’s best not to force it if the will isn’t there. So, to jumpstart myself back into the swing of things, here are a few recommendations based on my recent consumption.

If you’re looking for an enjoyable quick read, look no further than The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. While American Gods remains my favorite of his novels, Ocean is creative, charming, and just the right amount of dark. In his distinct style he blurs the line between childhood imagination and reality, weaving an interesting tale in the process. I also quite literally loved the book – the pages (shown above) were rough cut, making it feel like a journal in my hands. Even if you’re not a fast reader, you could probably get through the book in a day (I read it in one afternoon).

Another jaunt into magical realism (with a heavy dose of both magic and reality) is Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. The way she builds the story is absolutely masterful, as is her ability to be both bitingly funny and heartbreakingly serious. This is a much longer read, and is best enjoyed as slowly as possible. There is a lot of subtlety and a lot of footnotes (though the footnotes are a creative device, not a burden) so my advice is to take your time to absorb and appreciate the details.

Other books to add to your reading list:

  • Horns (Joe Hill)
  • The Leftovers (Tom Perrotta)
  • Vampires in the Lemon Grove (Karen Russell)

Tried my hand at overnight oats. Added coconut milk, honey and freeze-dried strawberries.

A post shared by Natalie Litofsky (@positivelynatalie) on

Other forays into consumption have naturally involved testing out new recipes. As an addition to my breakfast rotation I’ve started experimenting with overnight oats made in the fridge. It’s a relatively simple formula – at its most basic just equal parts oats and liquid – and very easy to adapt. The batch above was equal parts oats and coconut milk, plus some freeze-dried strawberries and a touch of honey. The only catch is that you have to remember to mix it up the night before. It’s a total bummer to open the fridge in the morning and realize that your breakfast has not already made itself.

My favorite combos:

  • 1/2 cup oats, 1/4 cup freeze-dried blueberries, 2 Tb unsweetened shredded coconut, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder, 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup oats, 1/2 cup pumpkin puree, 1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon, dash of nutmeg and ginger

While I won’t be NaNoWriMo-ing, I will make a commitment to write at least two blog posts a week for the month of November. While I’m working my way out of the hibernation of the mind, I suspect it will soon be followed by the hibernation of the body, so expect a lot of recipes in your future.