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.)

giphy

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!

banana-bread-ingredients-2

 

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.

recipe-card-banana-bread

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.

finished-banana-bread

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.

banana-ripeness

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.

oat-bars

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.

cornbread04

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.

cornbread05

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.

cornbread03

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.

cornbread02

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.

cornbread01

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.

You say potato, I say microwave potato

There are a great many things I love about infomercials, but generally not included on that list are the actual products being sold. No offense to the (I’m sure very hard-working) marketing department at the infomercial mothership, but when you sell kitchenwares with names like Dump Dinners and Curl-a-Dog I’m not exactly reaching for my wallet.

However, I seem to have stumbled across the as-seen-on-tv holy grail – A product with both a ridiculous commercial and actual functionality.

Yes, that’s right. It seems you can have it all. (Provided your definition of “all” includes laughing at an ad while microwaving a potato.) The aptly-named Potato Express is a single-function product that is designed to bake potatoes in the microwave. It’s a no-frills contraption – essentially a quilted pouch that insulates the potato and steams it into submission.

Potato Express microwave potato cooker

They claim that you can cook up to four full-sized potatoes in four minutes, and based on reviews I’ve read I’d say that’s a bit of a stretch. But being a single potato-loving lady, this faulty spud math doesn’t really bother me. I have successfully cooked a large potato (or sweet potato) or two to three smaller potatoes in their advertised time frame.

Once your potato is cooked through, they have a lot of ideas about what you could do with it. I derive great joy from imagining someone cramming a bunch of marshmallows in the pouch with the potato and wondering why it doesn’t look like the picture when they pull it out.

potato-express-recipes

But also, all kidding aside, it’s actually an amazingly useful product. Sometimes I’ll cook myself a few baby taters to go with eggs for breakfast. I’ve made a sweet potato to use as a base for taco fillings. This afternoon I went from zero to cheesy lunch potato in exactly four minutes.

potato-express-cheesy-potato

Does it taste as good as an oven-baked potato? Honestly, almost. Obviously the skin doesn’t get wonderfully roasted. But I know plenty of people who skip eating the potato skin anyway. Otherwise, at least in my experience, the flesh cooks up with exactly the same texture in the microwave as it does when you spend an hour waiting for the oven to do it.

So, in summary:

via giphy.com

You can order one directly from the As Seen on TV folks for $9.95, or I’ve also seen them available in-store at both Bed Bath & Beyond and Target.

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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How to feed (another) niche: Brunch edition

It has apparently been over a year since I last explored the bizarre treasure trove that is Williams-Sonoma. This must be remedied immediately. Since we all know that the only thing I could possibly love more than a collection of completely frivolous items is a thematic collection of completely frivolous items, this time I entered their cave of wonders with brunch on the brain.

The obvious place to start when it comes to brunch is eggs. They’re tasty any way you cook them, but there is something childishly delightful about whacking the top off a soft-boiled egg and dunking strips of buttery toast in it. However, Williams-Sonoma thinks that childish delight is… well, childish. Civilized adult-persons engaging in brunch do not decapitate their eggs while screaming like a samurai.

Egg topper

Instead, they apparently open them up with the cold, calculated precision of a serial killer. The Rösle Egg Topper description explains that it gives you “easy access to the silken white and creamy golden yolk inside.” Which is not creepy in the slightest. Nope, not at all.

Hitchhiker's Guide Arthur

The instructions read like the wet dream of a breakfast-loving mad scientist:

Simply place the topper on your boiled egg, pull the handle up, then release – the spring-loaded mechanism causes just enough vibration for the sharp blade to cut through the shell.

Unsurprisingly this item is made by Germans and only available online. They wouldn’t want you acting out your egg-topping fantasies in the store.

Toast tongs

And that aforementioned toast? Yeah, they’ve got something for that too. You can purchase Toast Tongs, which “deftly remove slices of bread from a toaster while safely keeping your hands away from the heat.” They also come complete with a magnet so you’ll never lose them (if you stick them to the toaster) or never lose any other metallic utensils that end up in the same drawer you shove them in.

Luckily, these are available in stores. You may want to go road test them so you don’t end up as disappointed as this customer was.

Toast tong review

I figure we may as well add some good fats into the mix to counteract all that buttered toast, and nothing fits the bill quite like avocado. There are all sorts of ways to enjoy avocado with your brunch, but the first step is getting it out of the skin. I’ve always just used a spoon, but apparently I am a savage who knows nothing about the finer points of avocado liberation.

The Avoloop, in addition to being terribly named, is “ideally shaped to scoop out the flesh from an avocado half in one clean sweep.” They make a point of letting you know that you could also use your Avoloop for “peeling mango, papaya, baked potato, squash and melon.”

But not kiwi. You’ll need to buy a Kiwi Loop for that.

Avoloop and Kiwi Loop

I don’t know about you, but my biggest fear is that I’ll no longer be able to serve properly made salsa at my post-apocalyptic brunches once the power grid fails. Recognizing that this is a fairly common fear, the crack team at Chef’n developed the VeggiChop Vegetable Chopper exclusively for the discerning customers at Williams-Sonoma.

I can’t decide which feature I love most – The blade’s “safety sheath”, having to pre-chop vegetables to fit inside the VeggiChop, or the fact that you operate it like a stubborn lawn mower that refuses to start. Apocalypse be damned, we will have salsa at this party! Reach for the sky, Chef’n!

Woody Toy Story

Recipe – Chinese tea eggs

A lot of the food I miss from living in Beijing is difficult to near impossible for me to cook now that I’m back in the states. Some of it is lack of ingredients, some just lack of specialized skills, and some of it is (in my opinion) a hearty dose of wizardry. I have never had properly cooked 干煸四季豆 (Sichuan dry-fried green beans) outside of China, not even in a Chinese restaurant. It’s like there’s some sort of magnetic field that keeps all the deliciousness on the mainland.

However, one of my absolute favorite Chinese breakfast/snack foods is actually easy (and fun!) to make at home. 茶叶蛋, known in English as “tea eggs” are a staple in China. You’ll see them bubbling away in vats at grocery stores, neighborhood restaurants, and sometimes just on the sidewalk with a long extension cord reaching back to someone’s apartment.

They’re made by cracking the shells of boiled eggs and then simmering them in a savory broth. The end result is a subtly seasoned egg with a pretty marbled pattern on its surface. While they’re great for eating pretty much any time, tea eggs would make a particularly great addition to your Easter brunch or Passover seder.

Lapsang souchong tea

The most important element to a delicious tea egg is obviously the tea. I am a firm believer in using Lapsang Souchong (known in Chinese as 正山小种), a variety of tea from Fujian Province. After the leaves are picked they dry them over a wood fire, resulting in a very smoky tea. You can probably find it in any large specialty market (like a Wegmans or Whole Foods) or you can do what I do and buy it online.

Now, when I say the tea is smoky I mean very smoky. It smells like a campfire when you open the bag. In addition to tea eggs, I think it’s great for making a hot toddy, especially if you’re a fan of earthy liquors like Laphroaig. If you can’t find Lapsang Souchong, yerba mate tea also has some of the same smoky qualities.

Some people just use regular black tea, and in a pinch it will certainly do the trick. The flavor won’t have quite the same depth, but you will still get the lattice patterns. I am a huge fan of this smoky Earl Grey tea from Fortnum & Mason, and if I ever find it for sale locally I would love to give tea eggs a try using it.

star anise

There are just a few other spices involved, but it’s important that you use quality star anise here. I promise that the eggs won’t come out tasting like licorice. It helps enhance the herbal qualities of the tea, especially when paired with the cinnamon sticks. It’s also important that you buy the star anise from a shop that you trust, because there are two different types. One kind (from China and Southeast Asia) is delicious and edible, while the other (from Japan) is poisonous and should only be used as potpourri. The link I provide above is for a reputable source, and although a pound of star anise is a lot to buy, there are all sorts of amazing recipes you can make with it.

Ingredients

  • 6-8 eggs, hard boiled (reserve boiling water in pot)
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. coconut palm sugar (or your sugar of choice)
  • 1/2 tsp. celery salt (optional)

Sachet containing:

  • 4g Lapsang Souchong loose tea (equivalent to 2 tea bags)
  • 3 pieces star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick (broken in half if necessary to fit)
  • 2-4 pieces fresh orange peel

Recipe instructions

Place your eggs in a pot and add enough water to cover them, plus about two inches. I’d say just go ahead and cook them to hard boiled, but if you feel comfortable handling a medium boiled egg that would work as well. Once your eggs are cooked, remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon and leave the water in the pot. Turn the heat down to low and leave the water simmering. Place the eggs in a colander and run cold water over them until they’re cool enough to handle.

Once the eggs are cool, take each egg and tap all over the surface of the shell with the back of a spoon or the dull side of a knife. This is the only step that requires a bit of finesse – crack too lightly and the broth won’t make it through the layers of the shell; crack too hard and the shell will fall off and disrupt the pattern. I would say err on the side of gentle at first, until you get a feel for it. You can always give the shell another few whacks if you don’t think it was adequate the first time.

tea egg spices

Let the eggs sit for a few minutes on the counter before you put them back in the pot. This will allow for some of the water to drain from within the shell. While the eggs are sitting, add the soy saucesugar, and celery salt to the simmering water and stir to dissolve. Using the slotted spoon, carefully lower each egg back into the broth. Then, add the tea sachet into the pot and cover it.

The length of time that the eggs simmer is really a matter of preference. I like to let them simmer, covered, over low heat for about an hour. Then, I take the pot off the heat, leave it covered, and let the eggs steep in the hot broth for another hour. At this point, if you’d like to eat the eggs you totally can. But I would recommend transferring the eggs and the broth to a glass container (removing and discarding the sachet), covering the container, and leaving it to steep in the fridge overnight.

tea eggs

The eggs pictured here were steeped overnight and eaten cold, because I was lazy and anxious to bite into them. When I’m not feeling that lazy, I prefer to eat my tea eggs slightly warm (not piping hot). To do this, take the eggs (still in the shell) out of the fridge and simmer them in the steeping liquid until warm. Then peel and enjoy!

I think the flavor stands out enough on its own, but if you wanted to get a little fancier with your brunch presentation tea eggs also taste great with a little dollop of sriracha mayonnaise (1 part sriracha to 3 parts mayo).

Update 3/29

I had a lot of leftover tea eggs in the fridge from recipe testing, so I decided this afternoon to turn them into egg salad. You don’t get the cool presentation of the pattern, but I will say that chopped tea eggsmayo = super delicious egg salad. No other spices necessary, unless you want to add in a bit more salt.

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.