There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand!

Remember how last week I kindly suggested you peel five ripe bananas and put them into your freezer? It’s time to remove them. There’s a frozen chocolate peanut butter banana pie in my freezer right now and my kids have no idea. Please don’t tell them. They had melon for dessert, and I’d like to keep it that way.

This pie is probably my favorite recipe from the new cookbook The Chubby Vegetarian: 100 Inspired Vegetable Recipes for the Modern Table, from the folks behind the eponymous food blog. It might have something to do with it also being the easiest recipe in the entire cookbook, but more likely my inclination towards all things chocolate-peanut butter.

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There are other recipes that I’ve bookmarked: Baked Cauliflower Wings with Black and Bleu Dressing; Crispy Baked Avocado Tacos with Purple Cabbage Slaw; and Egg Foo Young with Sriracha Gravy. But other recipes have me asking why someone would go out their way and put tricky ingredients into a cookbook, like the Huitlacoche and Sweet Potato Quesadillas with Chipotle Cream. (Huitlacoche is a mushroom-like fungus that grows on corn and is apparently a delicacy in Mexico.) Still, I have a huge bag of masa on my kitchen table with which I will be making pupusas, but I’ll be skipping the pickled loroco flower.

But yes, this pie. Oh man, this pie.

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This photo is a lie: My children don’t actually eat food. Unless it’s lox, in which case, Bea would like another slice.

But back to the pie. Those frozen bananas are going to get whirled in your food processor (yay for my blade finally coming!) along with some peanut butter, dried dates, a little cocoa powder, almond milk and a touch of Maldon salt. If you don’t have Maldon salt, just use a pinch of kosher salt. Close enough. You’ll be making the crust first, and that’s just peanuts that have been pulsed in the bowl of the processor.

Honestly, this recipe couldn’t be simpler, although I would encourage you to really chop the dates and cut the bananas into smallish pieces. Your food processor will really get a work out with this recipe, and the smaller pieces will make it easier to blend.

This pie is vegan and gluten-free and “is just about perfect for summer birthday celebrations and backyard grilling parties.” I’d make this for Bea’s second birthday party in a few weeks, but she’s made it clear she wants a Princess Leia cake. May the force be with us.

Frozen Peanut Butter Banana Pie from Frozen Peanut Butter Banana Pie from The Chubby Vegetarian by Justin Fox Burks & Amy Lawrence

Ingredients

5 ripe bananas

1 cup roasted and salted peanuts

½ cup peanut butter

5 dried dates (pitted)

1 Tablespoon cocoa powder

½ cup unsweetened almond milk

½ teaspoon Maldon sea salt flakes

Chocolate syrup (to garnish)

Directions

Peel the bananas and freeze them for at least 3 hours. Into the work bowl of your food processor, place the peanuts and pulse until finely chopped. Into the bottom of a springform pan, spread the finely chopped peanuts in an even layer.

Slice the frozen bananas into chunks. Into the work bowl of the same food processor, place the bananas, peanut butter, dates, cocoa powder, almond milk, and salt. Blend until smooth. Gently pour mixture into the springform pan so as to not disturb the layer of peanuts on the bottom. Smooth the mixture with a rubber spatula by pushing the mixture to the edges. Place the springform pan in the freezer for at least an hour. For the best consistency, remove the pie from the freezer 10 minutes before serving so it softens a bit. Slice and drizzle with chocolate syrup.

Bitter Herb

I’m tempted to start a new category on the blog: what to do with your leftover x that you bought for Passover and is still in your fridge a month and a half later. This year it was the fresh horseradish that my family always uses. Think E.T. but with a mop of curly green hair. It gets grated into the jarred stuff that is served alongside a few pieces of gefilte fish at a Saturday morning kiddush.

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The thing about the horseradish is that I can’t stand it. That entire category of foods doesn’t agree with me (Why would you ruin sushi with wasabi? And you do realize they make poison from mustard?) I debated just tossing the offending root in the trash, but that seemed like a waste. So I went to my cookbooks.

Luckily, it only took five minutes of searching until I was reading a pickled beets recipe that calls for fresh horseradish. It’s from Deborah Madison’s terrific cookbook, America: The Vegetarian Table, a book which has served me well in the past, but which I hadn’t opened in years.

The recipe calls for two tablespoons of coarsely grated fresh horseradish, which I toned down to about a teaspoon and a half. And honestly, the recipe really did benefit from the root. It gave it a little heat and was a great counter balance to the warm spices: brown sugar, fresh nutmeg, fresh ginger and whole cloves.

Madison points out that tiny garden beets, about the size of “large marbles,” are prettiest in this recipe. I used what was in my fridge, which were large ones. I simply peeled them, cut them into smaller pieces and steamed them before the pickling.

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I’ve served these alongside whatever we’re having for dinner: quinoa with arugula stirred into it; arugula sautéed with tons of garlic, strips of fresh red pepper and finished with golden raisins; roasted carrots topped with fresh dill; chunks of fresh avocado; eggs, boiled hard but with jammy yolks. Or, just grab a fork and the jar and have yourself an afternoon snack.

Pickled Beets from Deborah Madison’s America: The Vegetarian Table

Ingredients

About 3 cups of beets (20 small beets)

1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup water

1/2 cup white or brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 scant teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 ounce fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into strips

Up to 2 Tablespoons coarsely grated fresh horseradish

7 whole cloves

Directions

Trim the beets, leaving on ½ inch of their stems, and scrub them well. Or, peel and cut larger beets into 2-inch pieces. Steam them until tender but still a little firm, about 15 minutes. Let the beets cool. If the skins are tender looking and free of roots or coarse patches, leave them unpeeled; otherwise, peel them. Fit them into a clean quart jar.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a nonreactive saucepan and bring them to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the beets, immersing them fully, Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. They are best served after sitting for at least a day and will keep for one to two months.

 

 

So Hot Right Now

Passover is almost here, but before I start sharing my growing stash of Pesach recipes, I need to talk about these spiced cauliflower muffins I became slightly obsessed with last month. I’d been looking for something interesting to bring to the Tot Shabbat potluck, and since Lilli was the cover girl in the article in the local paper about the program, I felt like I needed to bring it.

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This recipe taps into two hot food trends right now: cauliflower and turmeric. It seems 2016 was the year of the cauliflower, with recipes for its meaty “steaks” and cauliflower flatbreads. (More to come on those). But it was also the year of turmeric. I admit to being a little late to this one. My Aunt Bev brought my mom an enormous stash from her recent trip to Israel. She talked all about its healing properties, all of which I was completely unaware of. My only associations with turmeric up to that point had been stained clothes from Indian food. But then I started seeing recipes calling for it all over, and then the inevitable backlash as the wave crested. Sigh.

I made this recipe the very day I clipped it. It’s by the Israeli couple Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, who helped Yotam Ottolenghi grow his empire and now run the bakery Honey & Co. in London. Their second cookbook Golden: Sweet and Savory Delights from the Ovens of London’s Honey & Co. reminded me that I have a sweet spot for Israeli-run bakeries, be it the Tatte empire in Boston, or Breads in New York City. The recipes, like the shops, are a mix of savory and sweet, with flavor touches like tahini and cardamom that I love.

This recipe is dead simple; no heavy equipment needed. Although the recipe calls for six enormous “trees” for six muffins, I used small florets and ended up with many more. The first time I baked these I used a mini muffin pan, and the batter was the perfect amount for all 24. I had more steamed cauliflower left after that batch, so I made a second round in regular-sized tins. That made nine perfect regularly-sized muffins.

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I ground the cumin and coriander seeds together in a spice grinder I picked up for $15 at Ocean State Job Lot a decade ago. I have the white pepper in the house specifically for hot and sour soup, so I was happy to finally have another use for it. I have seen turmeric everywhere from “international” stores, Whole Foods, and even Target. I have yet to find my pumpkin seeds since we moved, so I skipped them. The muffins were great without.

The muffin is this wonderful mix of warm spice and sweet, and then there’s the soft bite of cauliflower. I stored these in a plastic container on the counter but I have no idea how long they are good for because they fly pretty quickly when they’re around.

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Spiced Cauliflower Muffins from Golden: Sweet and Savory Baked Delights from the Ovens of London’s Honey & Co. by Itamar Srulovich & Sarit Packer.

1 small head of cauliflower
3 cups (700 grams/milliliters) water
1 teaspoon table salt

For the muffin batter
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (40 grams) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon table salt
A pinch of white pepper
4 eggs
5 ounces (150 grams) unsalted butter, melted

For topping (if you like)
3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese

1) Break the cauliflower into florets, making sure there are at least six large “trees.” (You will most likely have more than six; cook them all and save the unused florets to eat another time or use them for more muffins.) Put the water and salt in a large pan and boil the cauliflower in it until soft (this will take 5–10 minutes). Check to see whether it is done by inserting a knife tip into the stem; it should penetrate without resistance. Drain well and set side.

2) Preheat the oven to 375°F/350°F convection and butter six muffin molds. Mix all the dry ingredients for the batter together. Add the eggs and use a spoon or spatula to mix until combined, then slowly mix in the melted butter and fold until it has all been incorporated.

3) Place a spoonful of batter in the center of each mold and stand a whole floret stem-down in each. Cover with batter to fill the molds to the top. Mix the pumpkin seeds and cheese, if using, sprinkle on the muffins and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the tin and eat while still warm — they are best this way.

 

Chocolate (Granola) for Breakfast

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When people ask if we’re settled into our new house, I can finally say yes. Well, not including things upstairs. Or the boxes all over the basement. But we called the downstairs settled, with pictures hung on the wall and welcome mats in place, at 11PM the night before Lilli’s fourth birthday party, which was scheduled to start at 11:30AM on the following day. Lilli asked for a dinosaur-themed party, so I found dinosaur paper tablecloths, napkins, and plates, and dinosaur sun catchers as an arts-and-craft project for the kids to work on in the playroom. Obviously, the kids didn’t touch the sun catchers and were totally fine with playing dress-up, making play-dough messes, and sticking stickers on any and all surfaces.

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The arting corner

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The dress up corner

I called a bakery to inquire about having a dinosaur cake made, but nearly passed out when they told me it would cost at least $100 to make. Undeterred, and not wanting to let down my little girl, I found a dinosaur baking pan online for $10 and hoped for the best. It was not quite Cake Wrecks bad, but I can say without hesitation it was made with a ton of love by me and Rich the night before. It was a vanilla cake with cream cheese frosting, just as she requested, although it probably wasn’t exactly the vision she had in mind. It tasted much better than it ended up looking.

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Last year, for her third birthday party, we had a build-your-own cupcake bar. The year before we had a build your own sundae bar. This year, I decided to keep it simple, so we got some party-sized pizzas, which are apparently a Western Mass thing.  But we kept the DIY theme going with a build-your-own salad bar, and a yogurt bar for dessert.

You can really go any direction you want for a salad bar, but mine had two types of lettuce, peppers, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, chick peas, kidney beans, steamed green beans, steamed broccoli, shredded carrots, croutons (store-bought), artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, shredded red cabbage, feta, blue cheese, cheddar, radish, avocado, olives, beets (again, buy the packaged ones), sunflower seeds and raisins. If I had had the time I would have served pickled onions and roasted some Brussels sprouts. I served two store-bought dressings and this tamari and tahini dressing I hadn’t made in years, which was a hit.

The yogurt bar became a part of dessert, although if I had been a guest I would have totally broken into it regardless of what part of the meal we were up to. I served plain organic whole milk yogurt and vanilla organic whole milk yogurt, and raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cut up strawberries, honey, coconut, and (drumroll) this chocolate granola.

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Let’s dispel with the notion that granola is healthy. But this granola is particularly not healthy. There’s practically two cups of chocolate chips in every batch. This granola was made as a last-ditch effort to find something for Lilli’s lunch that she would eat and that would not violate the no-nuts rule at her school. I had a little bit of shame about the amount of chocolate and sugar, and debated “pretending” it was carob as far her teachers were concerned. But this is a new favorite in our house, and I’ve found myself making it every week. It’s taken up residence in a massive glass mason jar.

There aren’t a ton of ingredients to it: Some whole oats (healthy), maple syrup from up the road (not terrible), brown sugar (pretty terrible), coconut (which Lilli doesn’t know about), a little oil, and chocolate chips. Nuts had to go, and Lilli turned up her nose at the idea of dried fruit. The way this recipe came about was an accident. I added the chocolate chips too early and the heat of the granola right from the oven caused the chocolate to melt and coat everything, making a dirty good treat. It’s kind of the opposite of when Ruth Graves Wakefield added chocolate chips to her cookie dough, hoping to make chocolate cookies. Instead, she invented chocolate chip cookies.

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Getting her nails did for the party. (Six bucks for sparkly gold nails that didn’t take me hours to do a so-so job on.)

This recipe comes together very quickly, but you do have to give the oats a little stir every 15 minutes while they bake in the oven. But if I can do it on a weeknight, you definitely can, too. Here’s a little secret from my house: I never can find my quarter cup, so I always use four tablespoons. So when this recipe calls for ¼ cup of something, plus two tablespoons, I just measure out six tablespoons; it’s less clean up time in the end. Keep the large bowl you mixed the granola in to mix the baked granola and chocolate chips together.  I reach for a sturdy spatula to stir the oats in the oven, and then use it to stir in the chips at the end. You can also reuse the parchment-lined baking sheet as a cooling surface after you’re stirred the chocolate and granola to melty goodness.

Lilli eats this at least once a day, with plain whole milk yogurt. I fully acknowledge the amount of chocolate in this bars it from being health at all. But this is a dirty good, and easy recipe. Perfect for a snow day like today!

Chocolate Granola

Ingredients

3 cups rolled oats

¼ cups plus two tablespoons dark brown sugar

½ cup sweetened shredded coconut

¼ cup vegetable oil

¼ cups plus two tablespoons maple syrup

Pinch of salt

1 3/4 cups chocolate chips (or chopped up chocolate)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250F

In a large bowl, combine oats, coconut and brown sugar. In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, oil and salt.

Combine both mixtures and pour onto one sheet pan, covered with parchment paper or a silpat mat.

Cook for up to one hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve evenly colored golden oats.

Remove from oven and transfer back to the large bowl. Immediately pour in the chocolate chips and stir. You can either leave it in the bowl, or transfer it back to the pan for it to cool off, then break it into pieces before pouring it into a jar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making New Friends

Choosing what dish to bring to a potluck is tricky, especially when it’s a new community. So last week, when I narrowed down my choices to three for the Tot Shabbat vegetarian potluck (no nuts, please), I held a lunchtime poll topic on Facebook for my community’s input. (Rich is not the only pollster in this house.)

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The choices were thus: Vegan chocolate pudding, mushroom and farro salad, and brie and a nice baguette from one of the great bread bakeries in town. The clear winner was the chocolate pudding. You don’t win friends with salad.

This recipe is a good reminder that just because something is vegan does not automatically make it healthy. Case in point: my Cousin Mark eating a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips dipped in horseradish hummus for lunch. Sure, this pudding is made with silken tofu, so it has protein going for it. But it also calls for a ton of sugar.

A recent Facebook “memory” popped up in which I shared something I’d overheard Rich say to Lilli: “Finish up your dinner, because Mommy is cutting up some fruit for dessert. But that’s not real dessert. Real dessert is cake and cookies. Fruit is what Jewish people call dessert when they have a meat meal.”

But now, you can have this chocolate pudding, and it’s way simpler than cutting up a pineapple.

Ingredients

1 pound silken tofu

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

¾ cup sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Pinch salt

Directions

In a blender, combine tofu, cocoa, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Process until completely smooth, scraping down sides with flexible spatula as needed.

Pour into a small bowl and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours before serving.

 

 

 

Do You Believe In Magic?

Man, out of all the food “diets” that have come and gone, I think Paleo rubbed me the wrong way the most. I could post a few dozen articles explaining why it’s a bad idea to not eat whole grains and beans, and how a diet based on meat is, frankly, elitist. But I won’t. I will, however, take this opportunity to mention a former colleague who microwaved herself a sweet potato for lunch every fricking day, hogging the one machine on the entire floor. She sucked.

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If there is one good thing to come out of Paleo, it is that it brought coconut oil to my attention.  I have some Paleo cousins who swear by the stuff, so I bought a jar, and then forgot about it. The truth is, I prefer cooking my food in butter or olive oil, and I saw no need for its purpose.

But I am here to share with you the one recipe I use coconut oil for. It’s basically the opposite of what Paleo folks had in mind, and the irony only makes it more delicious. I’m talking about Magic Shell.

Yes, Magic Shell. You remember that hardened chocolate shell that covered the ice cream scoops of your childhood? One moment it’s liquid, but after it touches the ice cream (or after you tuck the bowl in the freezer for a minute or two) it forms a hardened shell, a thick varnish you have to whack away at with your spoon. Perhaps not as satisfying to crack as the crust on a crème brulee, but it’s loads simpler to make.

The magic in Magic Shell is the coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature, but melts when heated, and then solidifies as it cools down, like when it hits ice cream. To make it, all you have to do is melt chocolate – in chip form or otherwise – with the coconut oil. That can be done in a double boiler on the stove, or in the microwave. Just zap on high for 30 seconds, check, stir and repeat until it’s melted enough to be stirred smooth with a spatula or spoon.

So, thank you, Paleo diet. Because of you I was able to recreate a beloved treat from my childhood in mere seconds. I guess you were good for something after all.

Magic Shell

The beauty of this recipe is that it’s done by ratios, so you can scale up or scale down depending on your needs.

Ingredients

1 cup of chocolate, chopped

2 Tablespoons coconut oil

Directions

Place coconut oil and chocolate in a microwave safe bowl.

Microwave, in 30 second intervals, stirring intermittently, until both are completely melted.

Pour or spoon the chocolate sauce over ice cream. Place your bowl of ice cream in the freezer for a minute or two to aid in the magic.

All Of Us Under Its Spell

Ever catch one of those Tasty videos in your Facebook feed? Mesmerizing, right? Lilli caught one over my shoulder a few months back, and ever since she’s been hooked on watching recipes on the Internet. It wasn’t long before she and I discovered that you can basically watch a recipe of anything on YouTube. Her favorites are the intricate cake recipes, of which she, and now I, have watched have watched far more times than I would like to admit.

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There are teen bakers, baking bloggers who do all sorts of incredible things with food coloring and pastry bags, an Australian baker who leans heavily on using chocolate bars on his cakes. Lilli likes this last one a lot, and so I promised her we would make our own cake using her leftover Halloween candy. This turned out to be a lie, because certain adults in the house have been nibbling away at it over the past three weeks. Ahem.

But we finally made our cake this weekend, and it went off without a hitch, just like we saw on the Internet. I didn’t use person’s recipe per se, but created one out of what I learned watching countless hours of online videos.

What I have prepared for you are directions on how to make a rainbow cake. I promise you it’s easy; it just takes a little bit of patience and time. (Ours took about two hours from start to finish.)

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First thing’s first: Find yourself a vanilla cake recipe. Make sure it’s a vanilla cake, not a yellow cake, because that will mess up the colorings. This is the recipe we used.

Next, secure your frosting recipe. I always vote for cream cheese frosting, and this is my go-to, but if you have a vanilla frosting recipe – remember, it has to be white – then use that one instead.  Take out the ingredients for your frosting to come to room temperature when you start preparing your cake batter.

Now, I had never used food coloring until this cake. I’ve always been a little skittish about such things, so I went to the nice kitchen store in town and bought them there. The ones they had on their shelf were the same ones that the online bakers all use. But if you have a favorite brand you use, then please, do what you feel.

We used Kit Kats around the outside of the cake and M&Ms to decorate the top. The Halloween sized ones would have been the right height for the cake, but fortunately the large bars we used also fit when cut in half. Skittles will work as well for the décor, but I’m the only one in the house that likes fruity candies, so I would be the only one who’d eat the cake. I’m actually not a fan of M&Ms, so this was a guarantee that I wouldn’t sit and eat the entire cake myself.

Now that you’ve assembled the ingredients, assemble the cookware and utensils you’ll need. Grab as many 9-inch cake pans as you have. I had three so I ended up using each one twice for my six separate colors. I had Lilli butter them, but then I sprayed a layer of Baker’s Joy on top of that.

If you are using six separate colors, then get out six separate bowls and six separate spoons. An ice cream scoop, if you have one, is very useful.

Now, it’s time to start making your cake. As you can see from my photos, it was six very thin layers. If you want a cake that will have your friends and family oohing and ahhing, I mean, even more than this, then double the recipe to make thicker layers.

Now that your batter is prepared, evenly divide it into the six bowls. This is where the ice cream scoop comes in handy. Next, add your food coloring. We had to mix colors to make the orange and the purple, and it was a fun way to practice our colors. I hope you’re wearing an apron!

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making-colors

Now it’s time to bake. Carefully scrape the first bowl of colored batter into your first cake pan. It’s probably very thin, so gently push the batter to the sides of the pan with the spoon.

I baked my cake layers three at a time in the oven. Please keep an eye on them; mine were done in about 13 minutes. When they are baked through, remove the pans from the oven and set them on cooling racks to cool, which they will do very quickly. Turn the cakes out, let the pans cool, wash them, then repeat baking the remaining colors of batter.

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While this is going on, have a small child practice their sorting skills by separating the Skittles or M&Ms into small bowls. This is also when you can make your frosting.

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Lilli, auditioning to be a roadie for Van Halen.

Once your cakes are completely cool, it’s time to assemble. I find the easiest way to frost a cake is by placing it on a plate covered in wax paper, and place that on a Lazy Susan, if you have one.

Layer of cake, little bit of frosting on top, spread with an offset spatula, then next layer of cake, and so on.

 

It’s honestly up to you to choose a design. Rich pointed out that I’d actually stacked my cake layer colors in reverse. Make sure you save enough frosting to cover the outside and sides of the cake; your frosting acts like a glue.

in-the-process

Once it’s assembled, put it in the fridge for about an hour to set and firm up.

And how was it? Very tasty, although Lilli simply picked off the M&Ms and Kit Kats, ate those, and left the cake.

PS – This was Lilli’s theme song all summer long.