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Warm and Wonderful Banana Bread

Today’s weather called for something warm and wonderful. Yes, it is August, and in the world I grew up in August was definitely a let’s-try-not-to-turn-on-the-oven month, but this is not the world I grew up in and that’s that. I might as well take advantage of that fact when the opportunity arises.

If you live in that world then hang onto this recipe; it is a keeper. I mean, who doesn’t love a good loaf of Banana Bread? This one is moist, uses honey instead of sugar for sweetness, calls for a fair bit of whole wheat flour for extra nutritional goodness and is even low in added fat. When I bake it for myself, it includes walnuts for a little extra depth and added crunch. You could even add a handful of chocolate chips to the batter if you wanted to.

This bread makes a quick breakfast or a welcome after school snack. Eat it warm from the oven on a cool day or toast it and top with a little butter or peanut butter anytime.

Banana Nut Bread

1½ cups white flour
1¼ cups whole wheat flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
¾ cup honey
¼ cup milk
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1¼ cups mashed very ripe bananas (approx. 4 bananas)
1 cup chopped nuts, toasted (I use walnuts)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom only of one 9-inch loaf pan or two 8-inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl stir together the white flour, wheat flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk together the egg, honey, milk, oil and bananas until well combined.

Form a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Add the wet mixture and stir until nearly combined. Add the nuts and continue just until combined.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pans.

Bake at 350 degrees until a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out clean, approximately 65 minutes for 9-inch loaves or 45 minutes for 8-inch loaves. Cool slightly on wire rack before removing loaves from pans.


Late Summer Vegetable Medley

In many parts of the country late summer means abundant backyard gardens overflowing with fresh zucchini, summer squash and tomatoes. If you don’t have a backyard full of your own then generous neighbors are often eager to share their bounty. Failing that the stalls at farmer’s markets and produce stands are likely to have good bargains on these summer garden staples.

The question is: what to do with them? Favorite recipes quickly get tiresome as we work to make good use of the garden’s bounty. At this time of year I am always on the lookout for new recipes to try that will offer some variety to late summer menus.

Here is a simple way to prepare a medley of late summer vegetables without even turning on the stove. This pretty Italian Vegetable Toss combines zucchini, summer squash and tomatoes with mushrooms, herbs and some Parmesan cheese. It takes only a few minutes to cook in the microwave and clean up is easy since it can be served in the same dish it cooks in.

Italian Vegetable Toss

Adapted from a brochure of Microwave Tips from Cut-Rite Wax Paper

2 medium zucchini, sliced
2 medium yellow squash, sliced
1 cup sliced crimini mushrooms
1 Tablespoon butter, diced
1 Tablespoon fresh basil leaves, snipped
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges, or
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Place the zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms and basil in a shallow 2-quart microwave-safe casserole. Sprinkle with the black pepper and toss. Dot with the bits of butter.

Cover loosely with a sheet of wax paper and microwave on high until the squash is crisp-tender, approximately 4-6 minutes, rotating halfway through cooking time.

Add tomatoes and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Microwave on high another 1-2 minutes.

Let vegetables rest for a few minutes before serving.


Pecan Graham Coffee Cake

Holding On

In my pool of childhood memories I have this image that drifts to the surface from time to time. I am sitting on a chrome legged chair at our tangerine formica-topped kitchen table. I have just finished eating my lunch. My mother opens the stove drawer and there, from a white corrugated box, she pulls a large animal shaped shortbread cookie coated with a firm pink icing for my dessert; my favorite!

I loved those cookies as a child but haven’t seen them anywhere in decades. So many of the wonderful tastes I remember from those days are now history. Times change, even tastes change, and what was once popular and readily available fades away.

But some favorites do persist; Honey Maid Graham Crackers for example. When I was a child everyone seemed to have a box in their cupboard. I think they still do. Even my grandma, known for her thrifty habits like diluting lemonade to half strength and handing out half sticks of Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum for treats, freely provided graham crackers straight from the box as a snack or dessert. I loved to sit at her kitchen table with graham crackers and a cup of milk, dunking each cracker into the cup until it soaked up the maximum amount of milk and then carefully lifting it into my mouth to melt in a soft sweetness.

New Uses for Old Favorites

I still love graham crackers and still reach for a square when I want something small and sweet without fuss or bother. I almost always have a box on hand. They are great for no bake pie crusts, making gingerbread houses with the kids or smeared with peanut butter for a quick snack. Still, while I wouldn’t be without them I hardly ever think of anything new to do with them. Perhaps that’s why I cut a recipe for a Graham Streusel Coffee Cake from Better Homes and Gardens a decade or so ago.

I pulled it out of my kitchen files again this week. When I got down to baking I hardly followed it at all. I skipped some of the butter and made a slightly lighter crumb. I also opted to make a cake similar to the one in my favorite Sunday Special Coffee Cake instead of running to the store for the cake mix called for in the original.

The result is rich with fond flavors and a delightfully crumbly struesel. It is fun knowing that it is made with graham crackers though I’m not sure that it would be obvious to the average taster. Overall it simply tastes fresh and delicious. I can’t think why I didn’t try it sooner. It can be both fun and delicious to dunk into those sweet old memories. I’ll definitely be making this one again.

Pecan Graham Coffee Cake


2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, melted
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
½ cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

Pecan Graham Streusel Topping

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup butter
½ cup toasted pecans, chopped

In a small bowl mix together the graham cracker crumbs, cinnamon and brown sugar. Add the butter and mix to a crumbly streusel with a fork or by hand (more fun than you might think). Stir in the toasted pecan bits. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt with a wire whisk.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy. Add the white sugar and melted butter blending until smooth.

Add the milk and vanilla, whisking until well combined.

With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture until smooth and well combined.

Pour half of the batter into a prepared 9-inch baking pan. Scatter half of the streusel mixture evenly over the top. Pour the rest of the batter on top of the streusel carefully smoothing the batter over the crumbs. Scatter the remaining streusel topping crumbs on top of the batter.

Bake in a preheated oven, at 375 degree, for 25 - 30 minutes, or until the cake tests done.

Cool on a wire rack.

When cake is cooled top with a powdered sugar icing made from 1 cup powdered sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon of vanilla and enough water (2 to 3 teaspoons) to make a drizzling consistency.


Simply eat the cake while warm from the oven.


Baby Bok Choy with Peanuts

Whenever I have reason to be on the other side of Portland I can’t resist stopping by Uwajimaya to look over their huge selection of Asian grocery and houseware items. I often don’t buy all that much: some interesting tofu, pretty packages of udon noodles, canned green tea and/or a bag of interesting snacks.

What I do indulge in is looking. The housewares are unique and interesting. They have a good selection of big noodle bowls, tiny sake cups, sturdy tetsubin and those cute molds to form sushi rice.

The drink section is a study in the poetry of packaging. Flowing Japanese calligraphy paints words I can only feel with my eyes but not understand, beside an English approximation like “Wandering Poet” or “Haiku". The bottles are just as beautiful, made of pretty colored glass filled with thick nigori sake or dark triangular bottles that look sleek and contemporary. Some of them are filled with liquor flecked with gold. Who knew you could find so many beautiful varieties of sake in one place here in the US, not to mention Asian beer and other beverages?

Perhaps my favorite section, however, is the produce aisle. There is always some selection of fruits or vegetables that I rarely see elsewhere, some I have never seen before. Long curly green beans, spiny lychee and dragonfruit. Slightly more familiar are the bitter melons that I first discovered just a few years ago in CA and baby bok choy I first fell for last year.

On my last trip I brought some of the baby bok choy home because it looked so bright and fresh. Three little heads of this pretty cabbage amounted to about ¾ pound once cleaned and chopped, just enough for my husband and myself for dinner. With a little broiled tofu and rice and a small bottle of intriguing sake it makes a wonderfully light and interesting summer meal.

Baby Bok Choy with Peanuts
Adapted from a post at Simply Recipes
Serves 2-3

1 Tablespoon olive oil
½ cup green onions
2 cloves garlic
12 oz baby bok choy, rinsed
¼ teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon tamari
¼ cup peanuts or cashews, chopped
¼ teaspoon salt

To trim the baby bok choy cut approximately a ½-inch slice from the bottom. Separate the larger outer leaves that are loosened, more if they seem large, but leaving the smaller leaves attacked. Cut the whole attacked bok choy base into quarters, lengthwise. Chop the loose leaves into ½-inch slices, crosswise.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or sauté pan. Add the green onions, garlic and then the baby bok choy. Season with the sesame oil, tamari and salt.

Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until the bok choy leaves wilt and stalks are tender, approximately 3 – 5 minutes.

Stir in the peanuts or other nuts.

Serve and enjoy!

Summer Berry Crisp

The first week of blueberry season I bring home a half flat from the Farmer’s Market and set it on my kitchen counter. Everyone, from neighbors to friends to window cleaners, marvels at the size of the berries, asks for a taste, and before I know it they are gone.

The second week of blueberry season I have time to stash some in the refrigerator and throw a handful into a fruit salad for breakfast, a green salad with dinner or even bake a batch of Blueberry Oat Muffins.

By the third week of blueberry season I start to look for new recipes. In years past I have sought out the surprising or unusual and discovered Blueberry Salsa and Blueberry Chicken Salad. Both were fresh and wonderful and worthy of a home in my recipe box.

This year, however, I have so far been keeping it simple and sticking to the basics. Somehow I have gotten several years into blogging without posting a recipe for a Berry Crisp. I mentioned it at the market and was given a tried and true recipe from Good Housekeeping by Cheryl from MeadowGlenn Farms.

Of course I changed it a little. I cut it in half to better serve the needs and appetite of my family. Then I added some sliced almonds to the streusal crumb topping. This crisp dresses up the berries with some sweet crunchy toasted bits but without masking that fresh berry flavor. I’ve made three now and I’m about to make another. It may not be the ultimate in state of the art culinary innovation but it tastes wonderful!

Summer Berry Crisp
adapted slightly from a recipe MeadowGlenn Farms attributes to The Good Housekeeping Research Institute

3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons lemon juice
4 cups blueberries (or any mixture of summer berries)
6 Tablespoons old-fashioned oats
¼ cup packed brown sugar
3 Tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup sliced almonds, roughly chopped and toasted
2 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine the granulated sugar and cornstarch until blended. Add the berries and lemon juice; toss to coat.

Transfer the berry mixture to a shallow 1-quart baking dish ( I use shallow oval baking dish that matches my Italian Countryside dinnerware) spreading the berry mixture evenly.

In a small bowl, combine the oats, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and almonds. With fingertips (or fork, if you prefer) work in the butter until coarse crumbs form. Scatter the crumbs evenly across the top of the berries.

Bake the crisp at 375 degrees for approximately 30 minutes, or until the crumb topping is browned and the fruit is bubbling.

Remove the crisp to a wire rack to cool for at least one hour.

Serve warm or cold, with ice cream or on its own.


Found: Sablé of Berries and Soft Cream

Lost and Found

When I think of summer desserts one of the first recipes that comes to mind is for Sablé of Berries and Soft Cream, attributed to Jacques Pépin in an article I cut from a magazine many years ago. This recipe is simple and yet sublime. It is assembled from a swirl of soft cream, a crisp and delicately sweet cookie and a medley of fresh summer berries sauced in seedless raspberry jam and a splash of brandy.

Simple as it is, the recipe is perfectly proportioned and well worth referring to in order to get the details right. Unfortunately, for several years now, the recipe page with its detailed step by step directions has been lost as much as it has been found. During berry season I search longingly for the magazine page that introduced us, remembering it’s silky cream, sweet satiny crunch and bright tangy berries. For three years it remained elusive though I did catch a glimpse of it from time to time when looking for my winter holiday favorites.

Keeping Things in Proportion

Still I served it, using a different cookie and guessing at the proportions for the Berry Sauce. It is a recipe that is easy to approximate, yet making it just as directed puts everything into a consummate balance: The sablé is buttery and just crisp enough floating on a creamy pillow of soft cream swirled to a comfortable depth and topped with berries coaxed to an crescendo of tangy sweetness.

This year when I stumbled across the torn magazine page I was able to hang onto it into berry season. Working from it again I am reminded why it is such a favorite. I am sharing it here not only because I know you’ll love it too but because I don’t want to lose it again.

Sablé of Berries with Soft Cream is simple but elegant, and goes with almost any summer meal. And while it is a perfectly balanced combination when made as directed the elements are wonderful too. Use the sablé cookies when you want a sweet cookie bite that hardly spreads during baking and so sharply keeps the shape you cut it into. (I have used it for cookie houses which probably explains how it got into the winter holiday file in the first place.) Use the Berry Sauce over cheesecake, ice cream or pancakes. Use the cream, on, well....anything. Just don't lose the recipe. You may want to use it again and again.

Sablé of Berries and Soft Cream
This recipe is cut from an old magazine that attributes it to Jacque Pépin

Sablé Dough

1 cup flour
1/3 cup unsalted butter
4 Tablespoons sugar
1 egg yolk
1 Tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place flour butter and 2 Tablespoons of sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Process for 10 seconds.

In a small bowl combine the egg yolk and water.

Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture. Process another 5 to 10 seconds, or until the dough forms a ball.

(at this point the dough can be wrapped and refrigerated for up to 3 days before baking.)

To bake:

Roll out the sablé dough on a floured surface to a ¼-inch thickness. Cut the dough into 3-inch rounds using a cookie cutter or cut into squares using a ruler and pastry wheel or knife. (This should yield at least 8 cookies.)

Arrange the cut-outs on an ungreased baking sheet. Sprinkle them with the remaining 2 Tablespoons of sugar.

Bake at 400 degrees for 12 - 15 minutes or until very lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Soft Cream (Créme Friaché)

½ cup heavy cream
1½ Tablespoons sugar
½ sour cream

In a medium bowl stir together the cream and sugar. With an electric or hand mixer beat the mixture until soft peaks form.

Fold in the sour cream.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Berry Sauce

3 cups strawberries, rinsed and hulled (or other seasonal berries)
2 cups blueberries, rinsed
1½ cups raspberries, rinsed
1 cup seedless raspberry preserves
1 Tablespoon brandy or raspberry liqueur

Mint sprigs for garnish, if desired

If the strawberries are large cut them into halves or quarters.

In a medium bowl, combine the strawberries and blueberries (other types of berries can be substituted as you see fit).

In the bowl of a food processor combine the whole raspberries and raspberry preserves. Process for 15 seconds or until smooth. Strain the puree through a sieve over the mixed fresh berries.Gently mix and stir in the brandy.

To assemble:

Spoon 2 Tablespoons of soft cream onto each dessert plate, spreading it into a 5-inch circle in the senter. Place a sable cookie on top of the cream. Then spoon 1/3 cup of the berry sauce on top of the cookie. Another layer can be added if desired. Garnish with mint sprig, a small dollop of soft cream or serve as is.


Pork Roast with Mango Chutney

Warehouse Wandering

I’ve never been a huge fan of warehouse club stores. They do have some great prices but I always seem to spend more on extras I don’t need than I can save on the items I do. Now that one has opened on a corner near my home, though, I do have a membership again and I drop in occasionally. I have gotten better about targeting my purchase and coming out with only those things I went in for. Still there are occasions when a general thought like “I’ll just run in and pick up something for dinner” turns into a box full of random groceries some $85 later.

How does that happen? Well, last week, on the way back to pick up a rotisserie chicken I picked up a two loaf package of Dave’s Killer Good Seed Bread, huge bottles of Blue Machine and Mighty Mango Juice Smoothie’s from Naked, and some vitamins. When I finally got to the chicken I took only a quick glance around before I spied a huge pork loin roast and thought how it would be the perfect thing to cook on the weekend.

Divide and Conquer

It wasn’t until I looked at it again a few days later that I realized how truly big this pork roast was. I had grabbed an 8.71 pound loin roast. It was just $2.49 a pound so I hadn’t suffered sticker shock but it wasn’t until I was ready to start cooking that I realized it wasn’t going to fit in my crock pot and I wouldn’t be needing that much pulled pork barbecue anyway.

As I continued to marvel at the cut of meat I had dragged home I noticed that the package suggested cutting it into a boneless pork rib roast on one end, a boneless sirloin roast on the other and even cutting loin chops from the center. That made sense to me: divide and conquer. I cut the small end the length of my Le Creuset oval 5-quart French oven. That left about half the roast and since I wasn't all that interested in cooking the loin chops separately I carefully fit the remainder of the roast into my crock pot, poured a half bottle of Guinness over the top, seasoned it with salt and pepper and turned on the heat. That could cook all day or evening until it was easy to pull apart and then my son and his friends could eat barbecue sandwiches from it as they came and went all weekend.

Simple Summer Flavor

With my Pulled Pork Barbecue underway I turned my attention to the upper part of the loin, or boneless rib roast, I had cut. I remembered a jar of Trader Joe’s Mango Ginger Chutney that had been in my cupboard for some time. I'd heard it was good with pork but so far had never tried it. The flavors sounded perfect for a summer evening. With some fresh lime juice and a touch of butter it would make a perfect glaze for the pork. Suddenly a plan for dinner came to mind.

Several hours later I served tender slices of roast pork with mango chutney and lemon spinach. While it cooked there was plenty of time to relax over drinks and put together a light summer dessert. Maybe those warehouse stores aren't such a bad way to shop after all.

Pork Roast with Mango Chutney

3-5 pound boneless pork rib or loin roast
salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 jar mango ginger chutney
juice of ½ lime (approx. 1½ Tablespoons)
1 Tablespoon butter

Rinse the roast and pat it dry with paper towels. Season it with salt and pepper on all sides.

Heat olive oil in a wide pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot place the roast in the skillet and brown. Turn as needed, cooking approximately 2 minutes per side, until roast is seared and browned on all sides. If it begins to burn, turn the heat down a little.

(note: You want a good sear on all exposed edges of the meat to seal in the juices. My roast barely fit in my 3 quart All-Clad sauté pan. I managed to fit it in and the ends browned nicely against the sides of the pan. )

Place the browned roast in a roasting pan or Dutch oven with the fatty side up.

(note: I roasted mine in my Le Creuset oval 5-quart French oven. Actually I could have just browned the roast in the French oven on the stove top then transferred the whole thing to the oven without using another pan. I just didn’t think of it at the time.)

Place the roast in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes per pound. Alternately, place in a 300 degree oven for closer to 30 minutes per pound. When the roast has reached an internal temperature jof approximately 155 degrees (use a meat thermometer pushed into the center of the thickest part of the roast to measure) it is ready.

Remove the roast from the oven. Tent it with foil while it rests for 10 to 15 minutes. (The internal temperature should continue to rise to about 160 degrees.)

While the roast rests, place the mango chutney in a small saucepan and stir in the lime juice and butter. Heat the chutney over low heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 minute.

Place the roast on a serving tray. Spoon half of the chutney over the top of the roast.

Slice the roast and serve, passing the remaining chutney to spoon over the slices.

Serve with rice or polenta and your favorite sides.