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.

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.

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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.

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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The Return of the Cereal Killer

Last summer I wrote about replacing my morning cereal with a tasty mix of raw nuts and seeds. While it’s filling (and easy to mix up a different batch day to day), I’ll admit that the base of coconut flakes exponentially increased the amount of time I spent chewing in the morning. Like, an insane amount of chewing. Delicious chewing, but time-consuming.

So, I started adding a few oatmeal mornings into the rotation. I prefer to make overnight oats, for the same reason I like pre-mixing my faux cereal the night before. It’s nice to just walk into the kitchen in the morning, grab breakfast out of the fridge, and be on your way.

Grain-free granola

On one of my recent treks to Wegmans to stock up on siggi’s, I decided to poke around their specialty food aisles to see if there were any other non-cereal (but still cereal-esque) breakfast options available. It turns out LÄRABAR, despite having kind of a ridiculous name, makes a new granola product that is gluten free, grain free and totally awesome. I’ve tried all three flavors and I’d have to say my favorite is the Cinnamon Nut because it pairs well with pretty much anything.

siggi's yogurt and grain free granola

In honor of this new discovery, I figured it only made sense to (as I did previously) take a look at some more recent cereal television ads. While the previous spate of commercials seemed intent to cash in on adults remembering what it was like to be a kid, the ads I’ve been seeing for the past few months focus more on actual adulthood.

Lucky Charms seems to have a very specific demographic in mind here, namely creepy roommates and the people who room with them. Dude just wants to wake up and make himself a tasty(?) bowl of styrofoam puffs, but it seems his roommate has other plans. Never mind how much effort it must have taken to paint himself to the exact specifications needed to blend into the bookshelf, Kyle would also have to know his roomie’s morning schedule and gotten up early to be in place before someone saw him. Which is damned creepy, when you think about it.

Oh, Cheerios. I know you’re trying to be hip and all, but there is a time and a place for Usher’s seduction and the breakfast table is not that place. I mean, I guess it could be that place, but I don’t think you intended to make me picture Usher sweeping away cereal bowls in a fit of passion. Or maybe you did, because you chose a song that is literally about how to achieve sex with a lady.

It’s a catchy song, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say if your product is a honey “O” you should probably not advertise it with a lyric like “she came to give it to you”.

I really really really like this Shredded Wheat commercial. It’s actually pretty rare to see an ad aimed at people over the age of 50 that has some genuine humor in it. I chuckle every time I see her start to wolf down that bowl of cereal, then a little more when she tells her husband to “eat up”. I also appreciate that not once does Post claim that Shredded Wheat is worth eating for the taste. They’re basically admitting that they know it tastes like carpet fibers, so instead of trying to sell you on the flavor they’re promising more lifetime years of sex. And while they’re not doing it subtly, they are doing it without Usher’s gyrations, which takes some real skill.

I’m still going to stick to my faux-nola, though. For now.

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.

Healthy snack hack – Fruity frozen yogurt bites

About a month ago, I discovered an incredible yogurt. I know this doesn’t sound like a terribly exciting event, but I take life’s joys where I find them. The brand is siggi’s, and what they make (among other products) is an Icelandic-style yogurt called skyr. Jammed with protein like Greek yogurt, it also goes a step further on the awesome scale by being strained to the most silken texture I’ve ever encountered in a dairy product.

What I find particularly great about siggi’s is that they really care about what goes into their food (and what doesn’t). The ingredient list is short, free of any artificial flavors or sweeteners, and generally light on sugar. This means the end product is packed full of flavor and deliciously tart.

While I’m perfectly content to just spoon it directly into my mouth, I thought I’d try out one of the recipes they have on their site. I tweaked it just a little bit, and the end result was a quick and simple frozen treat.

yogurt-ingredients

All you need is 1/4 cup chopped fruit (I used strawberries), 1/4 cup coconut milk (full-fat, from a can) and one 5.3 oz container of siggi’s (my choice was coconut, in keeping with the theme). Mix all the ingredients together in a glass or ceramic bowl. This is an important distinction, because no matter how well you wash plastic bowls they are still porous and absorb all sorts of things. Using glass or ceramic ensures that no flavor ghosts from recipes past make their way into your tasty yogurt.

yogurt-mold

After the ingredients are well combined, spoon the mixture into a decorative candy mold or ice cube tray. I went with a nautical mold, because why not. My mix filled about 1.5 trays, and I’d say the trays I used were for relatively small pieces. With larger shapes, it would likely just fill one tray.

Then all you need to do is find a nice level spot in the freezer for these little guys to set. They’ll be soft set in about 30 minutes, and more solidly set after two hours. I find it’s best to let them defrost ever-so-slightly before eating them (for maybe just two or three minutes) so that they’re easier to bite into.

yogurt-bites

Aside from the tastiness, a great reason to make something like this is to help with portion control. When you want a little treat, you can take a few yogurt bites out of the freezer to satiate your craving without any guilt. Add to that the fact that siggi’s is certified kosher and gluten free, plus they only use milk from grass-fed cows, and you have yourself a healthy snack that you can feel good about eating.

While it’s not available in every store, siggi’s is still pretty easy to find. Just in case you’re not sure where to look, you can pop your zip code into their store locator.

As an added bonus, when I emailed siggi’s to tell them how much I loved their yogurt (yes, this is totally a thing that I do) they sent me an adorable packet complete with measurement swaps for cooking and a bunch of coupons. I think the best way to spread the love is to pass some of it along to you, so I’ll send a coupon for a free container of siggi’s to the first five people who comment on this post.

Happy eating!

50 Shades of Grain

The past week or so, it seems like my world has been inundated with ads for the upcoming 50 Shades of Grey movie. For the record, I have not read the books, nor will I be seeing the film. Not because I’m offended by the concept of kink, but rather because I’m very offended by terribly written books. Especially terribly written books that hit it big solely because there’s a big segment of the human population that thinks taking an extra cheese sample at the grocery store counts as living dangerously.

So instead, I’m going to see if I can milk some of the promotional web traffic by casually mentioning 50 Shades in a blog post that has nothing at all to do with the books (or movie), but is instead about my love affair with quinoa. Actually, if you intentionally exile your mind to the gutter, you could argue that quinoa sounds a little bit like a tool Christian Grey would keep in the world’s lamest BDSM den. Just a little.

Aside from the awkward name, quinoa is a pretty sexy little powerhouse. It has tons of protein, plus fiber, calcium, iron, and a whole cocktail of B vitamins. And even though it seems grain-like in texture, quinoa isn’t a cereal, which makes it a gluten-free food. It’s actually in the same plant family as spinach, and the part of the plant you see packaged in stores is the seeds. Essentially, quinoa is the epitome of all that is awesome, the complete polar opposite of Anastasia Steele.

The only real downside to quinoa is that it’s coated with saponins, a natural defense mechanism that tastes bitter and foams like soap. In other words, saponin is the Christian Grey of the plant kingdom. This means that you need to thoroughly wash quinoa before cooking it, and you’ll need to use a very fine mesh strainer so that the sneaky little seeds don’t slip through. Once it’s washed, combine a 2:1 ratio of liquid to quinoa (I prefer chicken broth), bring it to a boil, then reduce to simmer for about 20 minutes (or until all the liquid is absorbed).

In addition to eating quinoa as a side dish like rice or couscous, there are tons of great recipes out there for more creative ways to cook it. One of my favorite recent discoveries is this recipe from Whole Foods for an egg bake that uses quinoa to create a sort of crust. You could easily adjust the recipe to accommodate whatever herbs you have on hand, and it can also be made paleo by swapping out the milk for coconut milk and skipping the cheese topping (but don’t do that, cheese is delicious). I used Silk unsweetened coconut milk in the version pictured above, and it worked like a dream without any coconut flavor.

Unlike 50 Shades of Grey, I completely understand and support quinoa’s recent rise in popularity. Not content to rest on their laurels (and some damn fine laurels, at that), the superfood superheroes at Nuts.com have started carrying pre-cooked quinoa dry goods. Quinoa puffs are a tasty gluten-free alternative to cereal. They taste like Rice Krispies (and sound like them too) but have the added benefit of protein. I love combining them with a handful of freeze-dried fruit and coconut milk.

quinoa-puffs-cereal

If, like the rabid 50 Shades fandom community, you’re looking for something hot and messy, they also carry quinoa flakes. These cook up with the speed of instant oatmeal and the texture of Cream of Wheat, but with the slightly nutty, legume-y taste of quinoa. The mixture may seem a little liquid at first, but it quickly thickens as it starts to cool.

Put 1 cup unsweetened almond milk in a large microwave-safe container and heat for 1 minute. Add 1/3 cup quinoa flakes, stir well, then return to the microwave for another 1 minute – 1 minute 30 seconds. Top it off with a handful of freeze-dried strawberries or 2 Tb apple butter and prepare for a mouthful of pleasure.