Pecan Plum Banana Bread

I usually make my banana bread with walnuts and dates but today I decided to try something different. The dried elephant heart plums came out jammy and just a little bit tart. The pecans on top toasted nicely while the bread baked and gave a nice crunch. It was a big hit with our neighbors at last night’s HOA social committee meeting.

Ingredients, yields 4 mini loaves

  • 2 cups mashed banana (4 medium bananas)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 6 oz softened butter (1.5 sticks)
  • zest of one lemon
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 3/4 cup chopped dried plums (I used elephant heart plums)

Take the butter and eggs out of the refrigerator about an hour before you plan on starting to let them reach room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare the 4 mini baking pans with butter.

Cream the softened butter, sugar, and lemon zest with a fork until thoroughly combined. Mix in the eggs and then the mashed banana. Add salt and baking powder. Then gradually add the flour until fully incorporated.

Fold in 1/2 cup of chopped pecans (reserving 1/4 cup to use later) and the chopped dried plums. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans and top with the remaining chopped pecans.

Bake at 350°F for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pans for 10-15 minutes, remove from the pans, and then allow to cool on a rack completely before cutting and serving. Enjoy!

Pecan Pear Banana Bread cut

 

 

Adventures in Pie Making: Triple Berry Pie (Huckleberry, Blackberry, Raspberry)

The plan was to make a huckleberry pie. Plans change. I ordered wild huckleberries from Good Eggs and realized only later that the $10 of berries that I purchased was only an 8oz container. Luckily, I had also ordered blackberries and raspberries. So, triple berry pie it became. I was soon to discover that this was only the first bump in the road. This site/blog isn’t about perfection and so I’ll share what I did, how it could have been better, and what I learned along the way.

This is my first foray into the pie-making world. I grew up in a Romanian-American household that often smelled sweetly of delicious desserts but never of American-style pie. So, I was a little intimidated by the prospect of making my own pie crust. I did a little research online and more-or-less followed Smitten Kitchen’s well-written pie crust instructions, both how to prepare and how to roll and crimp. I didn’t want to cut any corners with this first pie and so even latticed the top of the pie.

lattice close

Pie Dough

  • 2.5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8oz cold butter cut into cubes
  • 1 cup cold water (chill briefly in the freezer or add some ice cubes)

butter flour

dough bowl

dough divideddough fridge

 

Filling

  • 1 cup huckleberries (these were very juicy and might have made the pie too juicy)
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar (add more if not eating the pie with ice cream)
  • sprinkle of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of corn starch (perhaps add more if your berries are as juicy as mine were this time)
  • zest of one lemon
  • a squeeze of lemon juice (probably about a teaspoon or two)

Huckleberries, Blackberries, Raspberries

Finishing touches

  • 1 tablespoon milk (to brush on top of the pie before baking)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (to sprinkle on the pie after brushing with milk)

lattice top

The raw pie looked lovely and was ready to bake. I had preheated the oven (we just moved and so this oven was new to me) to 375°F. However, I noticed that it didn’t appear to be cooking very quickly. I actually let it go the full hour before realizing that “preheat” on this oven meant just that. The oven turned off after reaching 375°F. Great. I also noticed some pooling of fruit juices on top and that some had even made its way through the crust (advantage/disadvantage of a glass baking dish). This modern, but less than intuitive, oven told me that it was actually around 200°F. I cranked it back up to the right temperature, this time on “bake,” for another 35 minutes.

triple berry pie

So, our pie came out very juicy. The crust on top was crunchy and buttery. The crust on the bottom did indeed soak through a bit, though it was fully cooked. I also learned that cutting the sugar used in other recipes made a pie that, as my husband said, was “addictive” when combined with ice cream. However, if you want to eat the pie without ice cream, add some extra sugar to the filling before assembling the pie for more a more traditional level of sweetness.

pie with ice cream

So, this is clearly not a perfect pie but it was a fun first try at something new and it still turned out pretty delicious. Have any pie-making tips you’d like to share with a newbie?

 

 

Strawberry Spearmint Coconut Cooler

Strawberry Spearmint Coconut Cooler

 

We just moved into our new home and our housewarming gift to ourselves was a Vitamix 750. We’ve seen this machine in action at our friends’ home in Tucson and loved the delicious smoothies that they created for us. I’m also looking forward to making hummus, soups, and other blended creations with the Vitamix 750.

I’d like to say that I was inspired by the hot summer weather to make this Strawberry Spearmint Coconut Cooler but, in reality, it had more to do with the limited produce in our refrigerator. In the future, there are a few things I’d do differently but, for a first try with the Vitamix, I think it turned out pretty well.

Ingredients

  • 9.5oz bottle of chilled Taste Nirvana Coconut Water with Pulp (if you’re feeling ambitious, you can also crack open a fresh coconut – Taste Nirvana is almost as good but with a lot less work)
  • a dozen fresh strawberries, plus one for garnish
  • a few sprigs of fresh spearmint, plus one for garnish
  • 1-2 teaspoons of maple syrup or agave (optional)
  • shot of rum or tequila (optional, not included here)

Pour the coconut water with pulp into the blending pitcher. Add the rest of the ingredients listed above. Blend to your desired consistency. In retrospect, I would have blended it longer to make it smoother but it depends on personal preference. If you like some texture (from the coconut pulp and strawberries) and want to see the green flecks of mint, blend for less time. If you’d prefer a more consistent texture throughout, blend for longer. Yields about 16oz of cooler, enough for 1-2 people. Multiply as needed.

For us today, this was a breakfast beverage and did not include any alcohol. However, I could imagine serving it at a mocktail at a BBQ or as a cocktail to evening guests. If you’re feeling festive, just add a shot of rum or tequila!

Thanks to Laura and Mihai for introducing us to the Vitamix and encouraging us to get one too. I’m looking forward to using it again soon!

Feasting on Fresh Figs

Kadota Figs

I grew up eating dried chewy figs from Greece or Turkey that were sold in small pressed round wheels. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the pleasure of a fresh ripe fig. These kadota figs from a local farm require no special preparation or fancy pairing. You could have some creamy camembert and toast or some nicely aged manchego with these gems but, really, even a knife is optional…

kadota fig

 

Blackberry-Lemon Sour Cream Cake

Blackberry-Lemon Sour Cream Cake

It’s the season to bake with berries! I couldn’t find a recipe I liked for today and so I decided to improvise my own.

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour, 1 tablespoon for the berries
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • 3 large lemons (grate zest and juice lemons, set aside separately)
  • 3/4 cup sugar for cake, 4 teaspoons sugar for syrup
  • 1 cup fresh blackberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9.5″ glass baking dish (or other type of baking pan of your choosing). Rinse the blackberries, shake off excess water, and lightly coat with 1 tablespoon of flour. Set these aside.

Whisk together the olive oil, sour cream, eggs, lemon zest, and sugar. Many people like to combine the dry ingredients and then incorporate them into wet. I prefer to wash only one bowl and have not noticed a difference. So, I encourage you to just mix the salt and baking powder into the wet ingredients and then, lastly, whisk in the flour until combined.

After the batter is ready, gently fold in the blackberries and pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until lightly browned on top and cooked in the center.

While the cake bakes, cook the reserved sugar and lemon juice in a small pot on the stove until the sugar has fully dissolved and then set it aside. After removing the cake from the oven, pierce the top in several spots with a toothpick. This will allow the lemon syrup to soak into the cake more consistently. Pour the lemon syrup slowly over the top and, if you see it pool on the edges, lift the cake slightly to allow it to drip beneath the cake. Use as much or as little as you like. My lemons were particularly juicy and so I did not use all of the lemon syrup. In fact, in future attempts, I may omit it entirely because the zest really makes it lemony enough for me.

Allow the cake to cool, slice, and serve with a generous dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Blackberry-Lemon Sour Cream Cake 2