Banananana Muffins

“Nanny Ogg knew how to start spelling ‘banana’, but didn’t know how you stopped.” ― Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad

If you’re unfamiliar with Discworld, but love the fantasy genre, or the humor genre, or the satire genre, you’re missing out. Sir Terry is a genius. There are currently thirty-nine (!!) Discworld novels, and yes, I’ve read them all. Is that too much nerd information? Anyways, anytime I see the word “banana” I always think of Nanny Ogg, a gregarious and hilarious witch. So… geek moment over, let’s get on with this.

I’m horrible about eating bananas. I always forget about them when I’m ready for a snack or something to go along with my coffee in the mornings. I invariably end up with at least 2 or 3 that are ripened past the “good eats” stage. As you can imagine, this leads to a lot of Baking with Bananas. This is an excellent recipe for people (like me) who have well-stocked pantries and an empty fridge.

banana_muffins

Banana Muffins

  • 1/4 C vegetable oil
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1/2 C firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 3 very ripe bananas, puréed
  • 1/2 tsp dried lemon peel or lemon zest
  • 1 T ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 C unbleached AP flour
  • 3/4 C whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 C whole grain rolled oats
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp white vinegar
  • 1/2 C chopped nuts or semi-sweet chocolate chips, optional
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease the cups of a 12-count muffin tin — I like using 0cal/0fat nonstick spray, but you could use shortening or whatever you have lying around. I recommend doing this even to so-called “non-stick” pans.
  2.  Cream together the oil and sugars. Add bananas and spices and mix well.
  3.  In a separate bowl, sift together flours, oats, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Add all at once to wet ingredients. Stir until just combined.
  4.  Add vinegar and mix well.
  5.  If using, fold in nuts or chips.
  6.  Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full. I used a 3T cookie scoop just because it’s fast and makes the muffins all about the same size.
  7.  Bake 20-25min.

In a dark muffin tin, only bake about 20min. For a silver/light tin, about 25. If you use a 24-count (mini) muffin pan, about 10-15 minutes will do. I used a silicone pan and the minis were perfect at about 12min. For the mini cups, a 1T cookie scoop works well. If you prefer a muffin that is not as chewy, use cupcake papers, spraying them with nonstick spray to keep the muffin-y goodness from sticking.

I’ve noticed my oven tends to cook things a little quickly (since I use the smaller top half of a double oven, perhaps?). Your cooking time may be longer. Or, increase the temperature to 360F.

 

Craziness, Cookies, and Cupcakes

It seems I spent all of last week in the kitchen baking, prepping, dicing, kneading, waiting…

I don’t have many pictures to prove it, but trust me. It was a lot of work. Fun work. Rewarding work. My fridge and freezer were stocked full of food my family couldn’t eat. We were living off chik’n strips from the depths of the freezer. And edamame. Because I found some of that kind of chilling out at the bottom as well.

So why the madness? It has to do with church again, of course. The biggest fundraising event of the year was on Saturday, and I was helping to coordinate food (again). My partner-in-crime (who I’ll refer to as Doc) was covering most of the day-of stuff. The guacamole, salsas, etc. After all, Doc has a day job. One of those “real” jobs where you wake up in the morning, put on some somewhat nice clothes, and go in for several hours to do some really geek-intensive science-y stuff. You know, the kind of science-y stuff not in a kitchen. I hear that type of science exists.

I covered flatbread dough, bruschetta, cupakes, cookies, and strawberries. And the booze. LOTS of booze. At least I got to buy that at the store!

All told, we made up six flatbreads with a sundried tomato and olive oil base, onion jam, fresh basil, and (sigh) whole-milk mozzarella. Doc made a queso dip with braised beef in it. It smelled fantastic. I salivated. I remained strong. (Woot!) Three salsas graced the table: pineapple, corn, tomato. We probably went through six bags of tortilla chips. There was leftover guacamole this year, which surprised us.

The bruschetta (LOVED IT) was a recipe I found in a Vegetarian Times magazine, substituting nutritional yeast for Parmesan. And of course, there was the always-present hummus. I don’t think a church gathering is complete without it.

Samoa cupcakes made an appearance again, along with a plain vanilla. Apparently, playing it safe isn’t very popular, since there was still a vanilla left at the end of the intermission. It’s okay. A friend came to the rescue and disposed of it for me.

I tried some new recipes, like these almond cupcakes with green tea glaze and marzipan flowers, inspired by the green tea cupcakes over at The PPK.

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Oreo buttercream was a huge hit.

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Turns out people were getting those Oreo cupcakes just for the frosting. Maybe I’ll just do some frosting shots next year and save the cost of flour.

There were so many cookies I don’t even know where to start. We were still eating them during coffee hour on Sunday, and there was enough left over to make up 44 snack-baggies of cookies for the sandwich line on Tuesday morning.

Since I had leftover marzipan, I made cookies for another church event Tuesday evening. almondCookiesAnd these… I’ll give you the recipe for right now.

Almond Cookies

  • 1 C vegan margarine, softened
  • 1/2 C powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pure almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 C AP flour
  • 1/2 C finely chopped almonds or almond meal

Beat margarine, sugar, and extracts in a bowl until fluffy. Beat in flour, then almonds. Divide dough into two halves on plastic wrap. Wrap and roll into logs about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Unwrap dough. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350F. Trim rough ends of dough logs. Cut cookie rounds about 1/2-inch thick. These cookies don’t spread, so you can arrange them on the cookie sheet quite close. Just don’t allow them to touch. Bake 15 minutes or until the edges begin to turn golden. Allow to cool 2-5 minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Green Tea Glaze
(recipe from The PPK, but she didn’t include directions for some reason)

  • 2 T margarine, melted
  • 1 C powdered sugar
  • 1/8 – 1/4 tsp unsweetened matcha tea powder
  • 1 – 2 T coconut milk
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • Drop of vanilla

In a small bowl, combine margarine and matcha. Whisk (I used the whisk attachment on my beaters) until combined. Add 1/4 C powdered sugar and beat. Add almond and vanilla extracts and another 1/4 C sugar. Use coconut milk as needed to thin the mixture appropriately to keep it smooth. Add in remaining powdered sugar 1/4 C at a time until entirely incorporated. Use a butter knife or small spreader to spread glaze on the cookies. Decorate elsewise (Is that a word? It should be a word.) as you wish.

 

 

Samoa Cupcakes

I told you before about the whole cupcake-lady-at-church-thing. When the annual Chili Cook-off & Homebrew Competition rolled around, of course I volunteered to bring in some vegan cupcakes for the cupcake bar. I mean — pssssssh. Duh.

A friend shared this recipe for Samoa cupcakes with me. He begged me to make them for him. I should point out that he lives in St. Louis. That’s a bit of a trek from the East coast. In lieu of cupcake delivery, I promised him some Facebook foodp*rn.

Rather than shelling out $$ to buy some vegan caramels, I made my own for the topping. Caramels + shipping >> cost of making my own. By a factor of 5+. Do the math. I’m cheap.

Anywho, these cupcakes are just a simple chocolate batter with a delicious top.

Chocolate Cupcake Batter

  • 1 C full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4C sugar
  • 1/3C canola oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract (or coconut extract, if you wanna get fancy!)
  • 1C AP flour
  • 1/3C extra-dark cocoa
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350F and line a 12-ct cupcake tin. Whisk together milk and vinegar and set aside. In a large bowl, beat sugar, oil, and vanilla until combined. Add the milk mixture and beat until foamy.

Sift together flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking powder and soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in two batches, beating so no large lumps remain. Fill liners 2/3 full. Bake 18-22 minutes.

Samoa Topping

  • 1/2 recipe coco-caramels (8-10 oz)
  • 3 C shredded coconut (I used sweetened, but use unsweetened if you prefer), toasted
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 2-3 T coconut milk

Break up the caramel and place in a large microwave-safe bowl with coconut milk and salt. Cook on high for 3-4 minutes, stopping to stir every minute or so to help the caramel melt. When smooth, fold in toasted coconut with a spatula. Allow to cool slightly before spreading on cupcakes. If the mixture begins to firm up too much, microwave it for about 30 seconds to soften it enough for spreading. I used about 2T topping per cupcake, spreading it on with a small spreader.

Chocolate Drizzle

Place the chips in a piping bag or Ziploc bag. If in a piping bag, stand it up in a large microwave-safe drinking glass. If a Ziploc, make sure it’s sealed. Microwave on medium power for 30 seconds at a time, squeezing the chocolate between each zap. Once melted, snip the end of the pastry bag or the corner of the Ziploc and drizzle over your cupcakes.

Voila! Beautiful, delicious perfection.

samoaCupcakes

 

My absence, and a few thoughts.

It’s been a crazy April — I wish it was over, already! Those samoa cupcakes (I promise, the recipe will come soon) were seriously the last best thing to come out of my kitchen. In March, no less. All my experimentation with new deliciousness has ended in failure this month — kind of how everything else is going.

It all started with the Toddler, of course. My husband took him out to go grocery shopping, taking the spare set of car keys with him. When they came home, Toddler went inside and I went out for (less than) 2 minutes to help bring in groceries. Toddler locked the door. Husband didn’t have a house key. You see the problem.

It’s kind of depressing how easy it was to kick in a dead-bolted door. The repairman sent out by our contractor fixed it so it would shut and lock properly, at least. The bolt receptacle for your deadbolt is apparently supposed to be fixed in place by 3″ screws, not 1″. Good thing whoever was responsible for that sucked royally at their job, otherwise, we would have had to call the fire department in to break the window. We tried with cobblestones and failed. So, score on window strength!

door

As totally awesome and humorous as that is looking back, I never want to do that again. Hide-A-Key will be installed shortly.

And then, of course, The Cat. To be specific, our special girl, Calliope. She decided to eat something… interesting.

cow_vetBill

 

She was not happy. I was not happy. But we’re all fine now.

So, after all this, I decided I would make cupcakes again. Some samoa cupcakes again. I wanted to make them to take to this really cool event happening downtown to revitalize a sketchy area. Well, to take to the people setting up for it, anyways. Lesson learned: hemp milk is not good in baked sweets. Just don’t do it. Toddler liked the cupcakes, because, hey, chocolate. I couldn’t stomach them. They didn’t deserve a topping and ended up in the trash. Which is cool. Totally cool. I gave up on the idea.

Still had an awesome time at the better block event. I finally got a photo of one of my favorite graffiti murals painted on a vacant building.

mural

 

I ogled the temporary plants and traffic redirection and bike lanes. And chuckled crossing the street.

crosswalk_dogs

 

It was fun. I had fun. The Toddler had fun. The Husband had to work… but I’m sure he had fun there.

And then…

And then… Monday. The Toddler and I came in from playing in the backyard at about 3pm to the news about Boston. Does anyone else ever flash-back to 9-11 news coverage whenever some sort of tragedy occurs? The confusion, the speculation, the horror — it’s always there.

I don’t have family or friends in Boston, nor do I know anyone who was running the race. My heart still hurts for those who were injured or killed. Their families and friends. For those who live in Boston and the surrounding areas. And for runners everywhere, who find pure joy in crossing a finish line and feeling that sense of achievement, who will never again run that race without remembering those explosions.

From the response of Patton Oswalt, to the words of Mr RogersPresident Obama, and those who share my faith, I drew comfort in humanity.

I hope that you are all well, that you are safe and happy, that no matter what life has thrown at you or will throw at you, you have been and will be strong; when you can’t be, reach out. Love each other. Heal each other.

Blessed be. Namaste. Amen. Shalom.

VV

Coco-caramels

I have an affinity for all things caramel. It can be in a candy bar (Caramello, I miss you!), a simply-wrapped chunk of chewy goodness, or the all-time-bestest-ever candy: Milkfuls. Oh how I miss Milkfuls.

Even my Grandma’s sticky buns were drenched in an incredibly gooey and cavity-inducing sweet caramel sauce, making them completely irresistible to me. As difficult as giving up cheese proved to be, the caramel torture was a much heavier burden to bear.

What is a caramelholic to do??!?

It involves superheated sugar and coconut milk. And a few burns. And some lessons learned about the differences between wax paper and parchment paper. And in the end? Worth. It.

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You’ll want a candy thermometer for this. Don’t use a digital unless it really is instant-read. The response time on those is usually just wayyyyy too slow. (I’m looking at you, Martha Stewart. You liar.) Even the nice heavy-duty ones don’t necessarily work well with the way I make these caramels. I have a Wilton model, with a little lip that prevents the bottom of the thermometer from resting on the pan. Sorry. Now it’s above the syrup, even. Oi. The best one I ever used was a super-cheap one like this, and I accidentally put it through the dishwasher. Oopsie.

I like to use a deep, wide-bottomed pot. The larger surface area makes for quicker heating, and the depth gives you a little leeway during the second stage of the process, when the caramel mixture becomes really bubbly and foamy.

As a safety note, you’re going to be working with some really hot stuff here. Wear long sleeves and have some oven mitts handy for handling hot stuff.

Are you ready to get gooey? (Sorry I didn’t take step-by-step photos. Maybe next time.)

For starters, prepare an 8×8 or 9×9 pan by lining it with either parchment paper or non-stick aluminum. Wax paper doesn’t work. I repeat. Wax paper doesn’t work. Don’t do it. Just don’t. Brush the bottom and sides of the lined pan with some melted coconut oil, or use some baking spray on it.

  • 1 pint (16 oz) coconut milk or creamer — I like to use So Delicious creamer
  • 3/4 C light corn syrup

Combine in a large pot. If you’d like, add up to 1 tsp of your favorite sea salt. Heat this while stirring over medium heat until the corn syrup and creamer are a homogenous mixture. Remove from heat and set aside.

  • 1 3/4 C evaporated cane juice
  • 3/4 C water

In a separate pot, combine sugar and water. Stir until sugar is all moistened. Clip candy thermometer to the side of the pot. Heat on medium-high heat without stirring until the thermometer reads 310F/155C (hard crack). If you’re nervous about not stirring the pot, you can lift it from time to time and give it a gentle swirl.

Here’s where it gets a little hairy. Pour the superheated sugar mixture into the milk mixture. Do it quickly. It’ll bubble and splash. The sugar will cool quickly and form a lump. Don’t worry. Take the opportunity to swap your candy thermometer to this pot.

Your caramel mixture will require nearly continuous stirring. Stir it on medium-low heat until that lump of sugar melts, then turn the heat up to medium-high. Stir stir stir until your thermometer reads 240F/115C (soft ball). This seems to take forever, but once your caramel starts to rise above the boiling point, the temperature will shoot up fairly quickly. Be diligent. You’ll have to stir vigorously to keep the foaming to a controllable level as well. Once the foam dies down a little, you’ll be pretty close to finishing.

Once you’ve reached soft ball stage, grab a spatula, remove the pot from the heat, and quickly pour the caramel into your prepared pan, scraping the sides almost immediately. If you wait to scrape the sides, the caramel will cook past the soft ball stage and you’ll have some awkwardly crunchy bits in your chewy caramels from the scraped bits.

PRO-TIP
Immediately sprinkle the caramel with some coarse sea salt before it gets a chance to do much cooling. Yummy!

Allow to cool completely before cutting. Use a hot knife coated in a little coconut oil to slice this sweet gooeyness into squares. Or, top with some melted chocolate before cutting.

Recipe from Saveur

Ratatouille Leftovers

You guys know I can’t pass up an opportunity to use up leftovers in a new dish. It’s part of the fun in making food in the first place. So when I had a big pot of delicious ratatouille left after dinner, I put on my superhero cape and got to work.

I use no-boil or “oven ready” lasagna noodles when I can find them. Two reasons: time-saving and I don’t boil the skin of my hands off by handling hot slippery noodles. When possible, I assemble my lasagna the moment I know I’ll have leftovers. Having a large lasagna pan with a lid makes that super-easy. Just slap it together and refrigerate or freeze it until you’re ready for it to bake.

I do keep some jars of pasta sauce on hand, although it’s super-easy to make your own from fresh tomatoes or cans of tomatoes or tomato sauce. What I use depends on the time I have and what flavors I want in my lasagna. As a fair warning, I LOVE garlic. So a classic Napoletana made with roasted garlic is usually my go-to kind of sauce (Yes, I know Barilla isn’t exactly high-end).

Ratatouille Lasagna

  • 1 pkg oven-ready lasagna noodles
  • 1-2 C ratatouille
  • 1 recipe tofu ricotta
  • 1 (14-16 oz) jar pasta sauce (or 2 C of your own devising)
  • 2 C kale or spinach, washed, dried, sautéed
  • Daiya mozzarella shreds

In the bottom of a 9×13 casserole or lasagna pan, spread about 1/4C of pasta sauce. Cover with a layer of noodles. Top with the kale and half the ricotta and a sprinkle of Daiya. Add a layer of noodles and coat with sauce. Spread with ratatouille and top with Daiya and some sauce. Layer with noodles. Spread with the rest of the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle with Daiya. Top with noodles. Use remaining sauce to completely cover the noodles. Sprinkle  with more Daiya. Cover pan with foil.

You can refrigerate this up to two days, freeze for (probably no longer than) a month, or bake it immediately for an hour in a 350F oven. Remove foil during last 10 minutes of baking.

lasagna_side

Ratatouille

Skinner: You know something about rats, you know you do!
Linguini: You know who know, do, whacka-do. Ratta-tatta – Hey, why do they call it that?
Skinner: What?
Linguini: Ratatouille. It’s like a stew, right? Why do they call it that? If you’re gonna name a food, you should give it a name that sounds delicious. Ratatouille doesn’t sound delicious. It sounds like “rat” and “patootie.” Rat patootie! Which does not sound delicious.
from Disney/Pixar’s “Ratatouille“. quote via IMDB

Weirdly enough, my own “Little Chef” doesn’t like this movie as much as I do. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t feature enough animals, or maybe because he’d rather actually be in the kitchen helping me rather than watching people cook on TV. Who knows. The kid is crazy.

But lookit this.

remys-ratatouille

If you’ve ever had ratatouille, you know it would take more than just that tiny little stack of perfectly-mandolined veggies to make a meal. It’s a stew. A bit heaping bowl or plate of delicious, warming, comforting stew. Like this:

ratatouille

Ratatouille

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 medium red or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 eggplant, stemmed and diced
  • 2 small zucchini, diced
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T vegetable broth or water
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • herbs of choice

In a large saucepan or a pot, saute onion over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring and scraping the pan as needed. Add bell pepper, eggplant, zucchini, garlic, and broth or water. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes, then season with salt and pepper.

I used 1 tsp of dried basil in this, but an Italian blend or Herbes de Provence also does well.

Of course, there are other variations to this dish. Often, the eggplant and zucchini will be sautéed separately, then a sauce is made with the onions, peppers, garlic, and tomatoes. The eggplant and zucchini might be layered in a casserole dish or a dutch oven, then covered in the sauce and baked or simmered on the stove. Whatever method you prefer, it will turn out delicious!

Leftovers? Well, you know we’ll make good use of those. Tune in next time (and sorry for the wait)!

In the meantime, enjoy this article I read recently from our local “alternative” newspaper: “Methinks I Don’t Protest Enough or Mama, I’m Running Away to Join the Circus Protest.”