Baker’s Delight: Banana Cupcakes

I first made this recipe a few years ago and really enjoyed it! Recently, I was asked to provide banana cupcakes for an open house and I remembered these. And so, I returned to the recipe and adapted it – these were the result. The honey cream cheese frosting is fabulous – not too sweet but oh so wonderful. These also make wonderful mini cupcakes – a batch makes 24 regular cupcakes and a lot of minis.  

BANANA CUPCAKES
(Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis, Food Network)
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3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 ripe bananas, peeled and coarsely mashed

Frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted (optional)

Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl to blend. Beat the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend. Stir in the banana. Add the dry ingredients and stir just until blended.

Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups. Bake on the middle rack until the tops are golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out with no crumbs attached, about 25 minutes. Transfer cakes to a rack and cool slightly. Cool completely before frosting.

To frost the cupcakes: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in   the honey. Spread the frosting over the muffins. Sprinkle with the walnuts if desired.

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Off the Shelf: March Magazine Reviews

Cooking Light (Stephanie): Usually I either love Cooking Light, or I’m disappointed by it. This month, though, I felt so-so about it. A few recipes jumped off the pages for me: Black Bean Hummus, Meyer Lemon Curd Tart, Tropical Sherbet, Chicken Souvlaki Pitas with Tahini Sauce. But most of the other recipes were just kind of forgettable.

I decided to try the Vegetable Korma as Jeremy likes Indian food and I haven’t been very proactive about making it in my own kitchen. The dish was good, but not quite as flavorful as either of us expected. The dish definitely needed some salt and maybe if I’d added a little curry powder, it might have packed more punch. I used chickpeas in place of the edamame, mostly because if we’re eating a meatless meal, chickpeas rank high on Jeremy’s preferred protein list. It was good and something I might make again, but with a little tweaking.

VEGETABLE KORMA
(from Cooking Light March 2011)
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1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 c. chopped onion
1 Tbsp minced peeled ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground red pepper
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1 c. frozen shelled edamame
1 12-oz baking potato, peeled and diced
1 c. chicken broth
1 tsp flour
1 13.5-oz can light coconut milk
3 c. cauliflower florets
2 c. hot cooked rice

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, and saute for 2 minutes. Add 1 Tbsp ginger and garlic; saute for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in tomato paste and spices; saute for 1 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in edamame and potato. Combine chicken broth, flour, and milk, stirring until smooth. Add broth mixture to pan , and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in 3 c. cauliflower, and simmer for 9 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Serve over rice. Makes 4 servings.

Bon Appetit (Stephanie): Bon Appetit was filled with lots of great sounding  recipes, many of which I hope to make. Potato and Yam Soup with Bacon and Spinach; Pork and Lemongrass Meatballs in Lettuce Cups; Roasted Pears with Blackberries, Ricotta, and Lavender Sugar; Savoy Cabbage Rolls with Halibut, Browned Butter and Capers Espresso Pound Cake with Cranberries and Pecans. Don’t these sound amazing?!

But my pantry supplies dictated that those recipes would have to wait until a later date. Chocolate Puddings with Orange Whipped Cream won out for my recipe testing. It came together very quickly (besides the 3 hours for cooling in the fridge, of course). Now I don’t have any orange liqueur, but the recipe suggested Kahlua or amaretto as alternatives. So I dolloped Kahlua whipped cream on my chocolate pudding. I think the best chocolate pudding I’ve ever eaten. Delicious!

CHOCOLATE PUDDINGS WITH ORANGE WHIPPED CREAM
(from Bon Appetit March 2011)
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1/2 c. + 3 Tbsp sugar, divided
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 1/2 c. whole milk, divided
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 c. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 c. chilled whipping cream
1 Tbsp Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur (or Kahlua or amaretto)
1/4 tsp finely grated orange peel (omit if using a different liqueur)

Whisk 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar, cornstarch, and 1/4 tsp salt in a saucepan to blend. Add 1/2 cup milk and egg yolks; whisk until smooth. Whisk in remaining 2 cups of milk. Bring mixture to a boil over medium/high heat, whisking constantly. Boil 1 minute, whisking constantly. Remove pan from heat; add chocolate chips and butter. Whisk pudding until melted and smooth. Stir in vanilla.

Divide pudding evenly among 6 dessert cups. Place plastic wrap directly onto surface of each, covering pudding completely. Chill at least 3 hours.

Beat whipping cream, liquer, zest, 1 Tbsp sugar until peaks form. Dollop whipped cream on puddings.

Cook’s Illustrated (Alaina): One magazine I have not reviewed often (or maybe ever?!) is Cook’s Illustrated. It is a fabulous magazine! My gift subscription is just coming to an end and I will be sad for that. The recipes are amazing, the product & brand reviews are excellent, and the articles & technique explanations are incredibly understandable and helpful. The magazine contains fewer recipes than most cooking magazines but the recipes are well chosen and you know they will turn out well.

They included Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread, Boston Cream Pie, and Spaghetti with Mushrom and Tomato Sauce among other delicious-looking recipes. I decided to try the snow peas. There was an article on how to use them and several variations to make a wonderful side dish. They were so good!

SAUTEED SNOW PEAS W/LEMON & PARSLEY
Cook’s Illustrated, March/April 2011
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1 Tb. vegetable oil
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 Tb.)
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Salt & Pepper
1/8 tsp. sugar
3/4 lb. snow peas, tips pulled off and strings removed
1 Tb. minced fresh parsley leaves

Combine 1 tsp oil, shallot, and lemon zest in small bowl. Combine 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/8 tsp. pepper, and sugar in second small bowl.

Heat remaining 2 tsp. oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add snow peas, sprinkle with salt mixture, and cook, without stirring, 30 second. Stir and continue to cook, without stirring, 30 seconds longer. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until peas are crisp-tender, 1 to 2 minutes longer.

Push peas to sides of skillet; add shallot mixture to clearing and cook, mashing with spatula, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Toss to combine shallot mixture with vegetables. Transfer peas to bowl and stir in lemon juice and parsley. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Food Network (Alaina): This magazine was once again great! I must have looked through it 20 times trying to decide which recipe to try. I had several marked like Rosemary Chips, Chicken, Sausage & Peppers, Tilapia Milanese, Citrus Salad, and Gorgonzola Polenta. It was an Italian themed issue and there were a lot of great pasta recipes, too. And the pull-out of 50 recipes for this month was pesto based recipes – yum. I will be sharing one of the pesto recipes next week – it was so good! 

They had a wonderful section on bruschetta with many variations. So inspiring! I decided to try a couple of the sweet ones and they were fabulous! They would be perfect for a tea, shower, or brunch especially. They were no-too-sweet and so pretty and they had eight different ideas for the sweet bruschetta and six ideas for the savory.

ORANGE CREAM BRUSCHETTA
Food Network Magazine, March 2011
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Segment a blood orange (I used regular) over a bowl: reserve juice. Toss the segments with 1 Tb. superfine sugar (I used regular). Simmer the juice and 1 Tb. of sugar in a saucepan until syrupy. Spread whipped cream on the toast rounds (I used a french baquette and toasted both sides of the bread in the oven); top with an orange segment and shaved chocolate. Drizzle with orange syrup.

BANANA-HAZELNUT BRUSCHETTA
Food Network Magazine, March 2011
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Toss 2 sliced bananas with 1 Tb. melted butter; spread on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with sugar and bake at 425 degress until golden, about 10 minutes (mine never really were golden but they were definitely roasted). Spread hazelnut butter (I used a chocolate hazelnut spread) on the toast rounds. Top with the toasted bananas, whipped cream, and chopped hazelnuts (I used toasted almonds).

Baker’s Delight: Banana Cheesecake

On Valentine’s Day Jeremy and I went to a favorite restaurant. For dessert I decided to try Fresh Banana Cheesecake (the favored choice of the restaurant owner). I like bananas, I like banana bread, I like banana muffins, but somehow anything else banana never really appeals to me. However, that first bite of banana cheesecake was unbelievably delicious. It tasted somewhat like banana cream pie (which I guess I also like), but even better.

Since then I’ve been dreaming about making it at home. Last week I decided to give it a try. I’d done recipe research and concocted my own. And to make it even more challenging, I decided to try baking it in my crockpot (why not try two variables in my first go at it?!). It turned out quite well (thought admittedly not quite as memorable as the piece I’d eaten). And until I try another piece someday, this is the best it will get.

The standard cheesecake crust is typically crushed cookies of some sort. Being gluten-free around here, I decided instead to try a shredded coconut crust. I mixed it with melted butter and cinnamon. However, feel free to use your crust of choice.

Also, I used a 1 1/2 quart corning ware dish to make my cheesecake, since I was using the crockpot. To bake in the oven in a springform pan, you will likely need to double the ingredients.

BANANA CHEESECAKE
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Crust:
1 1/2 c. shredded coconut
2-3 Tbsp melted butter
3/4 tsp cinnamon

Filling:
1 1/2 blocks of full-fat cream cheese (room temperature)
1/3 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
2 eggs
1/2 c. plain yogurt
2 just ripe bananas, mashed

Press your desired crust onto the bottom and slightly up the sides of a lightly greased 1 1/2 quart pyrex or corning ware dish.

In a bowl beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and lemon juice. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly between each. Stir in the plain yogurt and the mashed banana. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.

Add 1 cup of water to the bottom of your crockpot (I used 6 quart). Lower the dish inside. Cover and cook on high for 2-3 hours. The cheesecake is done when the edges are no longer shiny and have set. (It took close to 3 hrs for mine.) Let the cheesecake sit in the cooling crockpot for about an hour. Chill for 2 hours before serving.

Garnish with freshly whipped cream, chopped pecans, chocolate drizzle. Or just eat plain for breakfast. 🙂

Off the Shelf: February Magazines

Fine Cooking (Stephanie) – I enjoy looking through the pages of Fine Cooking in part because each issue offers a particular dish with recipe alternatives. The February/March issue includes meatloaf variations with aromatics, meats, mix-ins and herbs and spices ideas so you can create your own recipe. This issue also features several recipes using the banana, including Thai-Style Halibut Banana Curry with Peanuts and Banana Split Brownies.

I chose to try the Lemon-Glazed Banana Scones with Crystallized Ginger. I have to admit the flavor combination sounded strange, but nevertheless, intriguing. Also for true confession, I used powdered ginger because I wasn’t willing to send $8 on a jar of crystallized ginger for this recipe (conversion: 1/8 tsp of powdered ginger added in with the dry ingredients), so the ginger flavor is most likely less aggressive than the original recipe. Regardless, these are fantastic! I was amazed by the way the banana and lemon complemented each other.

(For any of you gluten-free readers, I successfully made these gf, but substituting my gf all-purpose flour mix of choice and adding 1 tsp of xanthan gum.)

LEMON-GLAZED BANANA SCONES WITH CRYSTALLIZED GINGER
(from Fine Cooking, Feb./Mar. 2011)
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FOR THE SCONES
9 oz (2 c.) unbleached all-purpose flour; more as needed
1/4 c. granulated sugar
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
3/8 tsp salt
2 3/4 oz (5 1/2 Tbsp) cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 small ripe (but not mushy) banana, cut into 1/4-inch dice (1/2 c.)
1 Tbsp minced crystallized ginger
3/4 c. + 2 Tbsp heavy cream; more for brushing
coarse white sanding sugar, optional

FOR THE GLAZE
3 oz (3/4 c.) confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz (1 Tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
pinch of salt

Position the rack in the top third of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Stack two rimmed baking sheets and line the top one with parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt. With your fingers, rub the butter into the flour mixture until a few pea-size lumps remain. Stir in the banana and the ginger. Add the cream; with a fork, gradually stir until the mixture just comes together.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat gently into a 7-inch circle about 1-inch thick. Using a knife, cut the dough into 8 wedges. Transfer to the baking sheet, spacing the wedges 1-2 inches apart. Brush the tops with heavy cream and sprinkle liberally with sanding sugar (optional).

Bake until the tops are golden, 19-25 minutes, rotating halfway through baking for even browning. Transfer the scones to a wire rack and cool slightly, 3-4 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir the confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, butter, and salt until smooth. Drizzle the warm scones with the glaze. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Saveur (Stephanie) – I perused the 135th issue of Saveur magazine online, the Jan./Feb. issue is the chef’s edition. I have to admit that many of the recipes didn’t appeal to me as they were ingredients I don’t typically use in my kitchen. But there were several different deviled egg recipes I found interesting. I tried the Bacon-and-Cheddar Deviled Eggs; how could they not be delicious?! 🙂

BACON-AND-CHEDDAR DEVILED EGGS
(from Saveur Magazine, Jan./Feb. 2011)
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MAKES 12

6 eggs
1/4 cup finely grated sharp cheddar, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 slices bacon, cooked and chopped, plus 2 tsp. rendered bacon fat reserved
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Hot sauce, such as Sriracha, to garnish

Put eggs into a 4-qt. pot of water and bring to a boil. Remove pan from heat, cover, and let sit 15 minutes. Drain eggs and crack each shell slightly. Transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water and let cool. Peel eggs. Halve each egg; using a small spoon, transfer yolks to a medium bowl. Using a fork, mash yolks. Add cheddar, mayonnaise, 3/4 of the chopped bacon, and bacon fat; season with salt and pepper. Stir vigorously with spatula until smooth.

Transfer mixture to a plastic bag or a piping bag fitted with a smooth tip and pipe into egg whites. Garnish eggs with the remaining bacon, more cheddar, and hot sauce and serve cold or at room temperature.

Bon Appetit (Alaina) – This issue had some great looking recipes. They have a section an interesting section on honey as well as a variety of chili recipes. The Honey-Roasted Onion Tart, Roasted Beets & Citrus w/Feta, Sesame Cilantro Soup, Black Bean Chili w/Butternut Squash, and Fresh Pinapple Trifles w/Orange-Coconut Cream are just a few of the tempting recipes. However…

…Just look at the cover of this magazine. Yum. And with a boast of them being the best brownies ever and that you would want to eat the entire pan, well, I simply had to try them. Not that I needed them, mind you – it was all in the interest of kitchen research, of course. 🙂 The verdict: I DID want to eat the whole pan but I restrained myself. Despite my adding way too much flour, they turned out simply delicious. I think the combination of the browned butter, walnuts, and rich chocolatey goodness made them irresistable. [On a side note, I used dark chocolate cocoa powder.] These would be an excellent Valentine’s Dessert if you are cooking dinner for two. You could use a cookie cutter to cut them into hearts and serve them with ice cream or fresh whipped cream or all by themselves. Seriously good, folks. Make them. 

COCOA BROWNIES w/BROWNED BUTTER & WALNUTS 
(aka delicious and worth every calorie)
Bon Appetit, February 2011
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10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into cup to measure, then leveled)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup walnut pieces

Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325°F. Line 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with nonstick spray. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt. Stir to blend. Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot). Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. Stir in nuts. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan. Cut into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 4 brownies. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

My Kitchen View

We enjoyed a wonderful weekend with my extended family. There is never a dull moment and there is an abundance of delicious food! Seriously. My family is full of talented cooks. So, we ate too much, spent lots of time outside, and watched our boys have the best time.

My cooking adventures of late included several new recipes for the weekend. I made my first apple recipe of the season. Yum. I will admit that as much as I enjoy the cooler, fall weather…I’m not a big fan of winter and since fall leads to winter, I’m feeling a little hesitant to bid summer farewell. But, the fall brings hearty soups, apple and pumpkin dishes, muffins, breads and more. Sigh. That part, I most definitely welcome.

Our little garden has struggled through and while we haven’t had as much produce as I would like, we are still enjoying delicious, gorgeous tomatoes, beautiful and plentiful basil, and some okra – which is continuing to grow on me.

 This weekend, I talked local restaurants with a couple of my cousins and my brother and sister-in-law. Evidently I must try Recess and it really looks wonderful! Naked Chopstix, Bazbeaux, and Brugge Brasserie where a few I mentioned – all of which I enjoy. All of these restaurants are in Broad Ripple – a happening, hip area.

Finally, I was debating what recipe to share today but I think it will be these very yummy muffins! They were not your normal banana muffins – they were packed with delicious-ness – granola, coconut, and walnuts. Ina Garten’s recipe is one I will definitely be making again. I think her idea of dicing some of the bananas and mashing the rest also added to the great texture. These are great as we head into fall. And I’m pretty sure you could use different fruits and change up this recipe.

BANANA MUFFINS
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3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 extra-large eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 bananas)
1 cup medium-diced ripe bananas (1 banana)
1 cup small-diced walnuts
1 cup granola
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
Granola, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the melted butter and blend. Combine the eggs, milk, vanilla, and mashed bananas, and add them to the flour and butter mixture. Scrape the bowl and blend well. Don’t overmix.

Fold the diced bananas, walnuts, granola, and coconut into the batter. Spoon the batter into the paper liners, filling each 1 to the top. Top each muffin with granola, if desired. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool slightly, remove from the pan, and serve.

Weekend Fare: Smoothies

Smoothies are perfect for the weekends or any day of the week. They often feature yogurt and/or milk but there are dairy-free recipes as well. You can boost their nutrients by adding protein powder, ground flax seed, or whatever other additives you prefer. Here are two that our family enjoy.

PINA COLADA SMOOTHIE
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1 c. vanilla yogurt
2 Tb. shredded coconut
8-10 oz. crushed pineapple w/juice
1/2 banana
1/2 c. milk
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
8 ice cubes

Put all ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. The coconut will still have some texture, so if you don’t prefer that, you can make a pineapple-banana smoothie and omit the coconut or substitute coconut milk for the milk and shredded coconut! Serves 3-4.

STRAWBERRY BANANA SMOOTHIE 
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1 c. vanilla yogurt
1 1/2 c. frozen strawberries
1/2 banana
1/2 c. fruit juice (I used a berry blend)

Combine all ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. Serves 2-3.

Market Fresh: Haiti

In lieu of our normal market fresh post, we decided that we would focus on Haiti today. Our hearts are heavy for the people of that country and both of us have spent helping our children to learn about Haiti and understand the disaster and devastation that has occured there.

As part of helping my 4 year olds in there study of Haiti, I decided to make several Haitian recipes. They helped out with the fried bananas. We enjoyed the food but more importantly it gave us a chance to continue our conversation about the needs of that country. A special thanks to Islandflave.com for the recipes. I adapted all of them from that site.

CORN MEAL (MAISE MOULINE)
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1 cup corn meal
4 cups water
1 minced garlic clove
1/2 finely chopped onion
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp parsley
1 tbs. oil
salt, black pepper, and hot pepper to taste

Saute garlic and onion in oil.
Add water and bring to a boil in a medium pot.
Combine remaining ingredients.
Whisk mixture repeatedly to avoid clumps.

CORN FRITTERS
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1 can corn (15 oz), drained
pinch of salt
1 cup flour
1 cup water
1/4 cup butter
3 eggs

Mix flour, butter, salt, water, and 3 eggs.
Pour corn into batter and mix well. Drop by tablespoons into very hot oil.
Brown, drain on paper toweling. Serve with tomato sauce.  (We had ours plain.)

FRIED BANANAS
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3 Very ripe bananas
1 Tb. flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tb. sugar
1/8 tsp. baking soda
sugar for topping (optional)

Mix bananas (we mashed the bananas), flour, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and soda in a medium size bowl.
Place spoonful of batter in very hot oil and fry until golden brown. Sprinkle sugar.