Easy Peasy Banana Bread

In the past 6 months, I think I’ve made this recipe at least a dozen times, I can almost make it with my eyes closed!!  This is because it’s both a delicious bread and also because of Leanne’s, Ric’s and consequently now Kya’s, Ryland’s and Jaks’ love, (I think it’s actually nearing obsession ), for banana bread.  Only difference between them with their unanimous love of banana bread is that Ric isn’t too fond of the chocolate chips in this recipe – he tolerates them, but I think he truly believes that they have no right to be in any type of banana bread!  If I remember to, sometimes I’ll add the chocolate to the batter just before I put it in the oven and only into one side of the bread.

                               Ingredients   eaten

This recipe from Allrecipes, is probably one of the simpler ones I’ve made and believe me, I’ve made copious banana breads, cakes and muffins over the years.  Mush the bananas, add some melted butter, an egg and mix that into your flour, baking powder, salt and sugar and your batter is ready.  After baking for about 45 minutes, you have a fluffy, spongy yummy cake.  It’s even better when it’s still warm from the oven – just ask Leanne and Ric!

Squares cut

Healthy-er Baking

I’m sure that most people would think that ‘healthy’ and ‘baking’ are complete oxy-morons.  BUT, they really aren’t.  There are plenty of healthy recipes out there, some are really good, some are just ok and sadly, some taste like you’re eating cardboard.   However, if you have a really super delicious recipe that you want to make a bit healthier, like one that calls for buttermilk, you can substitute it with plain yogurt or add a tablespoon of lemon juice to regular milk (let that stand for about 5 minutes first before adding it to your recipe).  Or instead of using white sugar, you can substitute organic sugar, packed brown sugar or even coconut sugar.  There are copious substitutions available, but I thought I’d compile a list of 10 of the more popular ones:

  • replace white flour with whole wheat flour – for every 1 cup of white, use 7/8 whole wheat.  Whole wheat has more fiber than white, which not only helps with your digestion, but it can also lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes
  • unsweetened apple sauce for oil or butter – using a ratio of 1:1.  This works really well in breads, muffins and cakes because it provides similar consistency, without the fats you will get in oil or butter. In case you’re wondering – 1 cup of butter has 1600 calories whereas 1 cup of applesauce has 160 calories, you do the math!
  • avocado puree for butter – using a ratio of 1:1.  When used at room temperature, the avocado has nearly the same consistency as butter and adds the same creaminess, again, without all the extra calories.  Avocado also has the natural good fats that your body needs (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats), AND they are cholesterol and sodium free
  • mashed banana for butter is another great substitution if you’re not an avocado fan!  A ratio of 1:1 works well and bananas will give you some key nutrients your body needs, like potassium, fiber and vitamin B6
  • natural peanut butter for “reduced-fat” or “fat free” peanut butter.  This is a big one for me, as these altered PB’s may not have as much fat, but they have way more sugar, not to mention oodles of artificial additives.   Next time you’re at the grocery store, take a look at the ingredients in a jar of reduced-fat or fat-free PB, how many can you pronounce?  Or even recognize?  Natural PB adds the same consistency and sweetness, just without all the extra junk in it
  • honey or maple syrup for corn syrup.  Corn syrup is a liquid starch made from maize, so not the best for you and recent studies show it is actually more unhealthy for you than over processed white table sugar.  Other good substitutes include rice syrup and agave syrup
  • 2 egg whites for 1 whole egg.  For those that are keeping an eye on their cholesterol, replacing a whole egg with 2 egg whites will still keep the texture the same in any recipe. Plus, even without the yolk, egg whites still contain riboflavin, selenium and potassium, which are key nutrients your body needs
  • chia seeds for eggs – yup, chia seeds, those same seeds that grow what resembles hair or fur out of a clay figurine “Ch-ch-ch-chia!”  Combine 1 tbsp of seeds with 1 cup of water, let it sit for about 15 minutes and voila – egg subsitute!
  • graham cracker crumbs to replace a cookie base.  Instead of the traditional sugar cookie or Oreo crust for a pie, try using crushed graham crackers.  Typically, they have half the calories and are just as tasty.  If you really NEED to have chocolate, you can always add a tbsp of cocoa powder the graham crumbs!
  • Cacao nibs for chocolate chips.  Yes, I know that chocolate is an immensely delicious ingredient in lots of yummy recipes, (believe me, I use it a lot!), but were you aware that the bag of those chips actually started off as cocoa beans before getting smooshed in to chocolate?   So why not opt to just use the rawest form of them?  They’re tasty, less processed AND they provide you a big, healthy dose of antioxidants

As I mentioned, these are just a few healthier substitutions that you can use to bake with, there are countless others and even more that can be used with regular (non dessert) cooking as well!

OMG Shortbread

Who doesn’t love shortbread?  When it’s baked just the perfect amount of time so the bottom is light golden, it crumbles just a little when you break off a tiny piece and that piece melts in your mouth with a buttery smoothness……..Mmmmmm, YUM! It’s like a party in your mouth! 

As I mentioned before, I do have my own super dee-lish recipe for shortbread, but a wonderful lady, Auntie Bernie, posted this recipe on her Facebook profile, so of course I just had to try it.  Looking at the it, it seemed like a pretty straight forward shortbread recipe, just with the exception of some yummy peanut butter added to it. I threw it all in the bowl, mixed it up, rolled & wrapped it to be refrigerated and waited (this was the hard part LOL).  Once it was chilled, I cut some nice, big, fat slices, because really…..who’s craving is going to be fully satisfied by a thin, puny little piece?  It did crumble a bit when I cut them (as the recipe said it would), but it was easy to shape them back together, plus it created a bit of cookie dough chunks for me to taste test.

PB Choc Chip Shortbread mixPB Choc Chip Shortbread logPB Choc Chip Shortbread log cut 2

 

 

 

 

In to the oven they went……..tick tock, tick tock…….the 12 minute baking time seemed like an eternity!  Especially since the irresistible smell of fresh cookies was not just filling the kitchen, but drifting throughout the whole house!  Finally, they were done and when I opened the oven door, heads turned.  An even stronger yummy cookie aroma filled everyone’s noses and I was pretty sure they’d suffer through a bit of a burnt tongue just to get a bite as soon as possible!

PB Choc Chip Shortbread baked

PB Choc Chip Shortbread stacked 3Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies from The View from Great Island website – and yes “OMG” were the words that escaped from the lips of a couple people.  There was also “Are you kidding me?”, “These are ridiculous” & a muffled approval that I couldn’t fully understand because she had just sunk her teeth in to this heavenly indulgence!  Now, I’m not going to admit that these are better than mine, they’re just……a different recipe with a few different ingredients and I can guarantee that they will be made again

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 chocolate chips

Cream butter & peanut butter with a hand mixer, beat in vanilla.  In a separate bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together and add to the butter mixture until the dough is no longer crumbly.  Stir in the chips and turn the dough out onto a piece of wax paper. Gently form the dough into a log. Roll it up in the paper, smoothing it out as you go. Twist the ends securely and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Take the log out, unwrap it and slice into 1/3 inch slices with a sharp knife.  If it crumbles a bit, just smooth it back together.  Bake on parchment paper for 12-14 minutes at 350F.  Let them cool on the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to the cooling rack.  ENJOY!!

Family Thanksgiving

So before I get started on today’s blog, I wanted to share something uber exciting that happened for me……on my Instagram, I posted my yummy chocolate peanut butter tarts and not only did I get a whole bunch of ‘likes’ and a few comments, but Chef Taylor Erickson from the Food Network’s show Chopped AND Chef Dan McClumpha, the Head Pastry Chef for Jamie Oliver, yes, THE Jamie Oliver are amongst those people!  Eeeeeek…..that’s so cool!!

Ok, so back to Thanksgiving

Yes, I know, Thanksgiving was about a month ago (for us Canadians), but if anyone knows my family, we kind of do things……well, on our time.  With wonky work schedules and both my brother and sister having in-law families, sometimes our dinners and holiday celebrations don’t always fall on (or even close) to the actual day.  This past weekend we got together for our Thanksgiving dinner, and as I was responsible for bringing dessert (shocker, I know!), it was either going to be apple or pumpkin related.  So, I decided on pumpkin with all those tasty fall spices – cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, but I wasn’t really in the mood to make another pumpkin cheesecake.  I found a great little concoction on Allrecipes for a Pumpkin Spice Cookie.  All the yummy ingredients for your basic cookie – flour, butter, eggs, sugar (I almost always substitute in brown sugar), add in a bit of those savory spices and pumpkin puree and there’s your mix.  Pop ’em in the oven for about 15 minutes and while they’re baking, you can make the glaze and drizzle it over them once they are cooled off enough.  I made the mistake of not waiting for them to cool before the glaze because basically, I wanted a nice, warm cookie and didn’t want to wait.  Unfortunately, the glaze just oozed off and more ended up on my fingers and in my hand than what stayed on the cookie!

MixOut of the ovenGlazing

 

 

 

 

This is a pretty straight forward and simple recipe, plus it makes a big batch of cookies to share with all the cookie monsters in your family Even my youngest niece and nephew loved them – I just left out the fact that there was pumpkin in them!  Like every family, things may not be perfect, BUT the main thing is that we do get together to celebrate birthdays and holidays and it’s always filled with laughter, reminiscing stories, more laughter, amazing food, a few refreshments, even more laughter and great company.  And this Thanksgiving was no different.  I’m so grateful to have such a wonderful and crazy, fun family, I love them all to the moon and back! 

ready to eat

 

Halloween Leftovers

Halloween is now behind us and if you have kids, you’ve probably already sorted through your kidlets’ candy and maybe downsized the amount of goodies (namely chocolate bars), to save yourself a not-so-fun trip to the dentist, or for other reasons like avoiding borderline diabetic shock or possibly just to have a few for yourself!  Maybe you bought a whole big Costco size box of goodies to hand out to all those cuties that were supposed to be knocking on your door, politely chiming “Trick-or-treat” in unison, yet you had all of a dozen little costumed munchkins show up.  So what do you do with all those extra little chocolate bars?  You could eat them – “I’ll just have a couple, they’re only mini ones”, next thing you know, the whole bowl is empty and beside you is a big pile of wrappers.  Prepare for intense sugar crash!  OR there’s always the alternative – make something easy and fun out of them – Peanut Butter Cups!  I found a super simple recipe on Allrecipes and made some scrumptious little treats that got 2 thumbs up from Ric (I’m told he’s a PB cup expert!).  I simply grabbed some Hershey milk chocolate minis, some smooth peanut butter and a lined muffin tin.

PB Cups - prepMelted the chocolate, added some icing sugar to the peanut butter to make it a bit thicker, scooped a spoonful of each into the liners, then topped it off with some more melted chocolate. Let em chill in the fridge for about an hour and voila!!  Homemade Peanut Butter Cups!  And just to be sure I’m not tempted to eat the whole lot of them, I gave them to Ric so he could enjoy them! Haha.  These will make great little gifts for someone who is a bit of a chocoholic!

PB Cups - choc & pb

PB Cups 2

Fall Baking

When the leaves start to turn brilliant reds, yellows & oranges, that means it’s time to take a trip to the local orchard and pick some fresh apples to do some yummy baking. Whether it’s for a family gathering, like Thanksgiving, or just because you have an afternoon that’s an “inside” kind-of-day (like yesterday was!), the smell of apples and cinnamon baking in the oven just gives you a cozy kind of feeling.  A few weeks ago, I went to Frootogo Orchard in Waterdown to do some apple picking and had a pretty fun time!  The trees are dwarf trees, so it’s easy to see what you’re picking, whether you’re 3 feet tall or 6 feet tall and there’s a very good variety of apples.  I, and when I say “I”, I mean the kidlets, decided on picking Honeycrisp and Cortland apples. I got home and picked out a few simple recipes with my mini bushel of apples.  First one, of course, was to make some yummy apple sauce – it’s a family recipe, so I wanted to see if I could make it taste just as good as I remember when I was a kid.  I don’t think it was as good, but for my first crack at it, it passed the “kid test”!  Plus, the aroma from the apples and cinnamon simmering on the stove filled the house!

Easy peasy apple sauce

Quick and easy apple sauce

Next, was apple crumble!  Now this is definitely one of my FAVOURITE desserts…..add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and I’m in heaven!  I got this delicious recipe from Martha Stewart’s website, although I chose the Apple Cranberry Crumble instead of the traditional “apple only” crumble. It was very simple to follow, didn’t take very much time at all and the pecans in the crumble added just that little extra bit of flavour. The only thing in the recipe that I changed was I used dried cranberries instead of frozen or fresh, even though she specifically said not to – I’m kind of a rebel that way  😉

Oh so delicious Apple Cranberry Crumble

Oh so delicious Apple Cranberry Crumble

There are so many different goodies to make with apples – they’re so versatile when it comes to baking and each type of apple creates a different taste too.  Just a bit of advice (from personal experience), if you’re following a recipe and it calls for a certain type of apple, for example, Honeycrisp, Empire or Fuji, be sure to use that type.  If you substitute the recipe with another type, like Red Delicious, your baking may not turn out the way you want it to or could even be mushy and lacking in taste.

Here’s a little humour to hold you over until my next blog – How do you make an apple turnover??…………………Push it down a hill     Hahahaha 🙂

Baking From the Heart

I know that for some people, something as simple as baking a cake seems like climbing Mount Everest, but for me, I could spend a whole day in the kitchen, baking everything from cookies to cakes to chocolate anything!  And there’s nothing that makes me happier than to watch someone take that first bite, see their eyes light up and the expression on their face when their taste buds explode with pleasure!

 

Now anyone who knows me, knows I’m not exactly a big Christmas person (I’m not a Grinch, but I’m certainly not a Who-ville citizen either!).  However, I absolutely LOVE doing copious amounts of baking at Christmas, it’s my escape from the craziness.  Yes, I know that Christmas is still 2 months away, but really, that’s only 8 more weekends, and unless you love baking as much as I do, you’re probably not going to want to, or be able to, give up one of those weekends to spend it in the kitchen!  From experience, doing a lot of Christmas baking does require a bit of planning ahead of time, and for me, it usually ends up being more than just a single weekend event!  I’ve already started planning my list of goodies that I’ll be baking for gifts to my family and friends.  There will be of course, my 2 traditional treats, which are both my own recipes and ones that I’ve been making since high school – my secret recipe shortbread and my chocolate truffles (my brother, who loves these, has another name for them, however, it’s not exactly blog-friendly! Haha).  Like with any recipe, it takes some tinkering to get them just perfect and with about 20 years of practice, I’ve been told they’re pretty close!

Cut & baked

My secret recipe shortbread

White chocolate and white sprinkled dark chocolate truffles

White chocolate and white sprinkled dark chocolate truffles

One of my recent and most challenging creations was Chocolate Ganache French Macarons, which I decided to make for a birthday gift.  Now these delectable treats either work out or they don’t, there’s no in between.  I ended up looking through a bunch of different websites – Allrecipes, Martha Stewart, Food Network and Popsugar, (to name a few), to find a recipe that caught my eye – and believe me, there are LOTS of different recipes out there!  I finally settled on one that didn’t have about 25 different ingredients and that wasn’t overly time consuming (meaning less than 3 hours from start to finish)  The recipe I chose to use was from Chowhound and they turned out great!  As I mentioned before, the look on my friend’s face when she bit into it, was all worth it!

Chocolate Ganache French Macarons

Chocolate Ganache French Macarons