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!

 

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!

Faking it – Low carb pumpkin pudding

The only thing about autumn eating that I love more than pumpkin is pumpkin spice. I find it fascinating that this particular blend of spices really does only work in the presence of pumpkin. You could put cinnamon and cloves together; you could put cinnamon and nutmeg together; you could even put cinnamon and ginger together. But somehow putting cinnamon and cloves and nutmeg and ginger together on anything other than pumpkin just tastes… wrong.

Unfortunately, in my quest to spend the impending winter whittling away my existing fat stores, I needed to find a way to enjoy my favorite seasonal flavor responsibly. If you get a 12oz Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks (the smallest size available) it contains an impressive 38g of sugar. As delicious as it may be, it’s not so delicious that I’m going to risk diabetes for it. Considering I’ve had some good luck recently at faking other foods, I figured I could manage a guilt-free pumpkin dessert.

pumpkin-pudding-ingredients

This recipe, while low carb, is not exactly what I would call clean eating. It still calls for some processed food, but I’m ok with that since it’s just an occasional treat and not a regular meal item. For people who are strictly paleo or generally anti-processed, I’d be curious to hear your input on how to sub out ingredients to make this all-natural.

For this flavor explosion, you will need:

  • 15oz can of pumpkin (or about 1 3/4 cup homemade pumpkin puree)
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 4-serving box of instant sugar-free pudding mix (I prefer either cheesecake or butterscotch flavor)
  • Vanilla extract (to taste)
  • Your favorite pumpkin spice blend (I went with cinnamon, ground ginger, and ground nutmeg)

So, here’s the thing with me and spices – I don’t measure them. Ever. It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s just that I get a good feel for how much is needed and I trust my gut. For this recipe you could use pre-mixed pumpkin pie spice. I decided not to because I wanted to leave out the cloves from a cold dessert. A good rule of thumb for this particular mix is half as much ginger as cinnamon, then half as much nutmeg as ginger. I was a little heavy-handed with both the ginger and the nutmeg in my most recent batch, which gave it a very slightly spicy, savory kick. Still delicious.

pumpkin-and-spices

Assembling it is fairly straightforward:

  • Carefully mix together the pumpkin, vanilla, spices, and half of the coconut milk into a large bowl. Make sure the bowl is about twice as big as the volume of pumpkin, because you need room for the liquid to slosh around while you mix it in. I learned this lesson the messy way.
  • Slowly stir in the pudding powder until it’s completely incorporated. Then, carefully stir in the rest of the coconut milk.
  • If you have the willpower for portion control, leave the pudding in the large bowl. If you prefer to set yourself some boundaries, portion the pudding into 6 individual servings. Let it chill in the fridge for at least an hour before eating (overnight for best results).

The first time I ate this, I’m pretty sure my eyes rolled into the back of my head. It tastes like pumpkin pie filling, but without the lingering malaise that always seems to follow pie consumption. If you’re looking for a crust substitution, try topping it with some toasted almonds or pecans. This is also a great way to fancy it up for dinner guests, who will have no clue the pudding they’re scarfing down is basically a health food.

pumpkin-pudding-whipped-cream

That’s my jam

When I hear the word “chia” I have a very instant reaction. I’m sure you have the exact same reaction as well.

It turns out in addition to making a great gift when spread onto a terra cotta animal, chia seeds are totally edible and apparently quite good for your health. They’re chock full of fiber, protein, calcium and Omega-3, and can be eaten whole (unlike flax, which needs to be ground). On top of all that, when they start soaking up liquid, chia seeds form a nifty gel that helps you feel full, keeps you hydrated, and purportedly lowers blood sugar.

Nuts

I stumbled across chia seeds unintentionally while shopping for almond flour. In hunting for the internet holy grail of good price and good quality, I ended up on the appropriately named Nuts.com. Since I was already paying for shipping on my flour, I figured I’d poke around and see if there was anything else on the site that I wanted to try. One of their top-rated products was chia seeds, and the user reviews talked about how awesome they were. So, into the basket they went.

I really can’t say enough nice things about this website. As far as the shopping experience goes, it’s easy to navigate and very communicative about the shipping process. My order got to me very quickly, in the most adorable packaging I’ve seen in a while, and included a bonus free sample of goji berries. In addition to the almond flour and chia seeds, I also purchased a low-carb baking blend and Turkish figs.

And can I just add, OMG. Those figs. It’s a real test of willpower not to eat them all in one sitting.

figs

As for the chia seeds, once I had them in my possession I still didn’t quite know what to do with them. I tried them sprinkled on yogurt and they were pretty tasty – slightly nutty and crunchy like a poppy seed. The next step seemed to be incorporating them into a recipe, so back to the web I went. I settled on the idea of making a quick jam, since I’m still looking for excuses to fire up my Ninja.

Because of the chia’s ability to gel, it mimics the pectin normally used to make jelly or jam. Simply put 1 Tb of chia seeds in a small bowl and add 2 Tb of water. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes to soak and transform. Meanwhile, rinse about 1 cup of berries (I went with raspberries) and pop them into a food processor. Pour in the chia gel (it will be slightly gray and goopy) and then add whatever sweetener you’d like. I went with Splenda to keep it low-carb, but if you’re going the all-natural route, organic honey or maple syrup would work equally well. 1 or 2 Tb of sweetener seems to do the trick.

chia raspberry jam

Pulse the mixture until it’s the consistency you like and then enjoy! It will be slightly thinner than traditional jam, but this didn’t bother me at all. I’ve eaten it on top of almond flour pancakes and also tried it stirred into Greek yogurt. It will only keep for about a week, but I ate my entire batch within 3 days so I don’t think you have to worry about it going bad.

Do you have any chia seed recipes to recommend? Let me know in the comments, I can’t wait to experiment more with this tiny superfood!

Making mustard with a Ninja

This brilliant idea began where many brilliant ideas begin – the liquor store. Unlike some of those other ideas, this one was actually brilliant. We were on a family beer shopping trip (that’s totally a thing), and I was helping my mom browse the rather expansive selection in the cooler. Going over the types of beer that she enjoys, we settled on the Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA for its hoppy bite. As I walked around the store checking out new brews, I kept looking down at the basket and pondering the flavor profile of the bounty within.

Beer got me thinking about food, which got me thinking about burgers, which got me thinking about mustard (a natural thought progression). Given my love of foodception, I decided that I would make the mustard with the beer. Now, before you start thinking that homemade mustard is beyond your culinary grasp, let me reassure you that there are really only 4 basic ingredients.

Mustard ingredients

The only “specialty” item in the bunch is the brown mustard seeds, but I’ve never found them difficult to locate. The easiest place to find them in the grocery store is with the Indian foods, since it’s a common ingredient in Indian cooking. If your grocery store doesn’t have an international aisle, you can order them online fairly cheaply. You can also substitute pretty much any liquid for the beer, although it’s probably best to stick with something slightly acidic like apple cider, orange juice, or white wine.

Mix the ingredients in the amounts shown above in a glass or ceramic bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter at room temperature for up to 2 days. The seeds should be soft enough to blend after 12 hours, but I like to give them a little extra stewing time. If you’re a klutz like I am, you may want to leave the bowl on a table rather than the counter.

The final step is blending your seeds into mustard.  You’ll want to add a pinch of salt and 1 or 2 tsp of something sweet. I went with brown sugar, but you can also use honey, maple syrup or agave. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also add other herbs or spices to customize the mustard in infinite ways. It’s important to use a food processor that has a powerful enough motor to break down the seeds.

blended mustard

I’m in love with my Ninja (hence the slightly deceptive post title) because in addition to packing a punch it also has 4 blades instead of the traditional 2. How long you blend it really comes down to personal preference – you’ll want to keep some of the seeds intact while making sure enough are blended to turn it into a spread. I find the best method is a repeated process of pulsing and then checking on the mustard until it’s the consistency I like.

After you’ve pulverized your mustard, you should transfer it to a glass container with a firm lid. Leave it out at room temperature for another day to fully mature and then store it in the fridge. It should stay fresh for about 3 months, but I doubt it will last that long. And just in case you meandered over here expecting the explosive combination of cooking and ninjas, I found you this video.

The Diet Diaries: #3 (A baking miracle!)

Over the years, the Internet has brought me countless hours of wonder and delight.  Starting with the family’s first dial-up connection to Prodigy (technically more of an intranet, but I’m not here to split hairs) I have been glued to that magic portal.  After all this time together, today I experienced my first Internet-related religious experience.  It was a baking miracle.

Behold, the 100-calorie cupcake:

Oh.  My.  God.  The only problem you will have is figuring out how to stop yourself from cramming the whole batch in your mouth at once (which, at 2,400 calories, still wouldn’t be the most decadent dessert in the world).  These cupcakes, inspired by a post over at Omnomicon, are dangerously simple to assemble.  You will need four ingredients:

 One box of cake mix.  I chose Devil’s Food, because it’s decadent.
One 12oz. bottle of diet soda.  My pick was Jones Diet Black Cherry.  Yum!
One container of Fat Free Cool Whip (thawed) and one box of Sugar Free/ Fat Free pudding mix.  My choice was Cheesecake flavor, for the obvious reason of deliciousness.
Stir together the cake mix and the soda in a large bowl.  You will need to whisk the batter fairly vigorously to ensure all of the dry mix gets incorporated.  Follow the baking instructions on the box, adding about 5 more minutes to the baking time, until a toothpick comes out clean.  You can make cupcakes, Bundt cake, whatever your little heart desires.  I went with cupcakes because it forces a bit of portion control on my dessert-greedy self.
While these little beauties are baking, whisk together the Cool Whip and the pudding mix.  It will be a little thick, so you will probably need an icing spatula to spread it on the cupcakes.  Also, since it’s made primarily from Cool Whip, I would recommend storing excess icing in the fridge.  When you’re finished, they will look a little something like this:
And there you have it.  100 calorie cherry-chocolate cupcakes with cheesecake icing.  It’s not the richest dessert in the world, but if you’re on a diet it’s a culinary orgasm.

The Diet Diaries: #2 (Having My Cake)

Since we’re all friends here, I have a bit of a confession to make: I am a banana bread-aholic.  It has come to the point where I often buy bananas with the hope that no one in the house will eat them.  I place them carefully behind the knife block or next to more appealing brightly colored citrus fruits as a sort of consumption deterrent.  Then, I watch them patiently as they slowly turn from green to yellow to brown to a delicious shade of black.

It’s easy to convince myself that banana bread is a healthy treat, because it’s full of bananas.  Much like the vegetable argument behind carrot cake, filling any baked good with a large quantity of fruit is psychologically the baking equivalent of eating a side salad with your bacon cheeseburger.  The problem with this type of thinking is that it completely ignores all of the other ingredients, particularly the butter and white sugar.  With the “D” word hanging over my head, I feared that I would be in for a long banana breadless journey.

My friend and fellow bakeaholic Cristina suggested to me that I check out a website called The Skinny Chef, where it was rumored there existed a less guilty recipe for peanut butter banana bread.  I went on the site, and suddenly it was as if the clouds parted and my computer glowed with a magical light.  That is how much I love love love banana bread.  All that was left to do was wait for some bananas to ripen up, and I would be on my way to dessert heaven.

This banana bread is a dieter’s dream come true.  It uses whole wheat flour, egg whites, brown sugar, and the peanut butter takes the place of butter or margarine.  Plus, the added bonus is that the protein in the peanut butter makes each slice wonderfully filling.  I followed the recipe fairly closely, except for two very delicious substitutions.  Since I didn’t have quite enough peanut butter for the recipe’s requirements, I added about 3 Tb of Nutella (always a favorite in my baking endeavors) and since the recipe didn’t specify I used fat free banana yogurt.  The result was the most delicious banana bread I have ever made in my entire life.  Considering how much banana bread I’ve baked over the years, that’s saying quite a lot.

For the recipe, check out the Skinny Chef website here.

I would also suggest you stop by Cristina’s blog, 100 Days of Happy, for a regular dose of amusement.