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: April Magazine Reviews

Bon Appetit (Stephanie): The advent of spring is celebrated throughout the pages of Bon Appetit with recipes highlighting ingredients like asparagus, radishes, peas, strawberries, leeks. After the long winter months, it’s such a pleasure to cook with fresh seasonal produce again. So many recipes sounded tempting: Garganelli with Asparagus, Artichokes, Favas, and Peas; Soba Noodle Salad with Salmon and Asparagus Radish, Arugula, and Red Onion Salad with Tangerines; Orange-Flower Pavlovas with Strawberries; Bacon and Leek Risotto with Poached Egg; Ginger-Pecan Scones. Doesn’t all of that sound springy and delicious?!

My pantry ingredients enticed me to make the Chickpea Salad with Lemon, Parmesan, and Fresh Herbs. I didn’t have the fresh parsley or basil on hand, so I did substitute 1/2 tsp of the dried herbs, though I’m certain fresh would have been better. Still, this made a nutritious, delicious, inexpensive lunch. I served it on a bed of shredded romaine. This will definitely become a standby recipe.

CHICKPEA SALAD WITH LEMON, PARMESAN, AND FRESH HERBS
Bon Appetit, April 2011
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1 15- to 15 1/2-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed, drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, pressed
1/3 cup (packed) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Coarse kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Combine rinsed and drained chickpeas, chopped fresh basil, chopped Italian parsley, fresh lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, and pressed garlic clove in medium bowl. Add grated Parmesan cheese and toss gently to blend all ingredients thoroughly. Season chickpea salad to taste with coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

DO AHEAD Chickpea salad can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Serve salad chilled or at room temperature.


Everyday Food (Stephanie): Every couple of months I get my hands on an issue of Everyday Food, and while I’m not wowed by every page, there are always several recipes that pique my interest. In this issue I did find recipes I hope to try sometime: Sauteed Collards with Bacon; Raspberry Cornmeal Crumble Bars; Shredded Chicken with Kale and Lentils; Mushroom Risotto with Spring Herbs. Overall though, I felt like a Celebration of Spring theme seemed rather absent (other than the Easter Dinner menu: Salmon with Brown Sugar and Mustard Glaze; Salt and Pepper Rolls; Asparagus and Green Beans with Chili-Orange Oil; Balsamic Red Onions; Simple Lemon Cake). I would have enjoyed more lightened-up, spring produce featuring recipes.
We don’t eat much cereal in our house, but I love a bowl of granola now and then. So, I decided to try two variations of granola recipes: Pistachio-Apricot Granola and Cherry-Lime Granola. Both were quite tasty! (Though I didn’t have enough of the lime zest, so the lime flavor didn’t come through as strong as I would have liked.) I make my granola with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Rolled Oats, so my husband can enjoy the bounty as well. These recipes are a little on the pricey-side as the nuts and dried fruits can be expensive, but it’s fun to experiment with different flavors. The basic quantities are endlessly adaptable to your pocketbook and palate.
PISTACHIO-APRICOT GRANOLA
Everyday Food, April 2011
3 cups rolled oats (not quick oats)
1 cup unsalted, shelled pistachios
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (I used 3/4 tsp cinnamon + 1/4 tsp nutmeg)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup dried apricots, diced medium
Preheat oven to 300°F. In a large bowl, combine oats and pistachios. In a small saucepan, combine butter, honey, cardamom, and salt over medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until butter melts, 1 to 2 minutes. (Or, place ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave until butter melts, 1 to 2 minutes; stir until combined.)
Pour butter mixture over oat mixture and toss until oats and nuts are completely coated. Transfer to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and spread in an even layer.
Bake until oats are lightly golden, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Let cool completely; stir in apricots. (Store in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 3 weeks.)
CHERRY-LIME GRANOLA
Everyday Food, April 2011
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup agave nectar or honey
1 packed Tablespoon fresh lime zest, finely grated
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup dried tart cherries
Preheat oven to 300°F. In a large bowl, combine oats and pistachios. In a small saucepan, combine butter, agave, lime zest, lime juice, and salt over medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until butter melts, 1 to 2 minutes. (Or, place ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave until butter melts, 1 to 2 minutes; stir until combined.)
Pour butter mixture over oat mixture and toss until oats and nuts are completely coated. Transfer to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and spread in an even layer.
Bake until oats are lightly golden, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Let cool completely; stir in apricots. (Store in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 3 weeks.)
Saveur (Alaina): This is consistently a great magazine full of information and great recipes. They nearly always include international recipes which I really like.
Sandwiches was the tantalizing theme of this month’s issue. You may recall, that I am crazy about sandwiches. So, of course, I had to feature this magazine in the review. I made two of the over 40 sandwich recipes. It was a little hard to narrow it down! They were quite different but both were popular with my crew.
The first was the Elena Cruz – yes, I partly chose it because it shares my name and also because it sounded delicious – it was. The second was the California. Yum. I made it as written and then after I tried it that way and loved it, I added some bacon and loved it even more. Sigh. Sandwich Nirvana. There are so many more to try…
CALIFORNIA SANDWICH
Saveur, April 2011
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¼ cup buttermilk
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp. finely chopped chives
1 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
½ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. onion powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 slices multigrain sandwich bread
2 slices Monterey Jack cheese
½ cup alfalfa sprouts
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced lengthwise
1 ripe tomato, cored and thinly sliced
Whisk together buttermilk, sour cream, mayonnaise, chives, parsley, and garlic and onion powders in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and spread on all bread slices. Place 1 slice cheese each on 2 slices of bread and top with sprouts, avocado, and tomato. Season with salt and pepper, and cover with remaining 2 slices of bread.
Makes 2 sandwiches (You will have extra sauce, which would be delicious as a salad dressing.)

ELENA RUZ (Cuban Turkey Tea Sandwich)
Saveur, April 2011
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1 Cuban roll or brioche bun
2 tbsp. cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp. strawberry jam
3 oz. sliced turkey breast
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
Split roll, spread cream cheese on bottom half, and top with turkey. Spread jam on top half of roll and close sandwich. Heat butter in a 10″ skillet over medium heat; cook sandwich, weighing down with a cast-iron skillet and turning once, until golden brown and heated through, 3–4 minutes. Cut in half, and serve hot.

Superbowl Snacks: Jalapeno Dip

We are being pounded with bad weather and ice here in Indiana and sadly, that means I don’t have a picture of this for you today – I simply didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand to make a batch. But, I have made it several times and I will add a picture as soon as I am able.

My family and friends can vouch for the delicious goodness of this recipe! I first had Jalapeno Dip this fall – my boss made something similar for an open house we had at work. It is not low in fat or calories so if you want a healthy superbowl party, look elsewhere.  But it is so easy and so popular with everyone – you may become a celebrity with this dip! 🙂 Oh and you can easily halve this recipe…but you won’t want to!

JALAPENO DIP
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2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, room temp
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack or Cheddar Cheese 
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chilies
1 (4 ounce) can sliced jalapenos – double if you want it spicier
1 cup bread crumbs (panko or regular)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 stick butter, melted

In a food processor, add the first 6 ingredients and process until smooth. You do not need to drain either can of peppers. Spread the dip into a greased 2-quart casserole. In a bowl, mix breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and melted butter; mix well. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over the dip and bake in a preheated 375 degree F. oven for about 20 minutes. You want the top to get browned and the dip to be heated through and bubble gently on the edges.

Do not over cook this dish or the mayonnaise with separate and you will have a grease puddle in your dip. Serve with Butter crackers or a thinly sliced French baguette (my personal favorite).

Weekend Fare: Stuffed French Toast

My husband and I lived in West Palm Beach, FL for a year when we were first married. Only a year but we loved it! And we had a favorite breakfast/brunch spot – John G’s. The omelets were delicious and the fresh squeezed juice always amazing but the french toast…oh the french toast! We, too often, made weekend treks down to the beach front restaurant to stand outside and wait in line for a seat in the popular restaurant. It was worth it…every time.

So today, I’m sharing my version of a stuffed french toast which reminded us very much of the Raisin Cream Cheese French Toast. This recipe received rave reviews from my loyal fan club of my three boys and husband. They loved it!

CINNAMON RAISIN STUFFED FRENCH TOAST
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8 slices cinnamon raisin bread
3 eggs
1/4 c. milk or cream
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tb. butter

In a pie plate, combine eggs, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon. Beat until fully mixed.

CREAM CHEESE FILLING
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 tsp. honey
2 tsp. milk or cream
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

In a medium size bowl, combine cream cheese, honey, milk, cinnamon, and vanilla with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

Melt butter on a griddle on medium-high heat. Spread 4 slices of bread with cream cheese mixture. Top with remaining slices of bread to create four sandwiches. Dip each sandwich in the egg mixture – front and back. Place in pan and cook until browned turning once. Top with powdered sugar if desired. Serve with pure maple syrup.

Serves 2-4.

Weekend Fare: Mini Cheesecakes

I’m digging through my archives today because the truth is, we are still living in a hotel. The only opportunities I’ve really had to cook are at my parent’s house. Hopefully we will be back home by the weekend. I’m anxious to begin cooking again – I’ve missed it!

This recipe is so simple and so delicious! I love them for showers or holidays or pitch-ins. You can easily modify this recipe by omiting the lemon zest and adding mini chocolate chips or by using lime or orange zest, or whatever else sounds good! They are wonderful and quick for unexpected company or weekend treats.


MINI CHEESECAKES
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1 c. crushed vanilla wafers
2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 c. white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Fresh fruit – strawberries, kiwis, blueberries, whatever you like tossed with a bit of sugar and citrus juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line miniature muffin tins with miniature paper liners. Place 1/2 teaspoon of the crushed vanilla wafers into each paper cup.

In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, eggs and vanilla until light and fluffy. Fill each miniature muffin liner with this mixture, almost to the top.

Bake for 15 minutes. Cool. Top with fruit just before serving. Garnish with whip cream if desired. Makes about 48 miniature cheesecakes.

Tea Time: Spring Tea

Finding myself newly married, enduring my first gray Pittsburgh winter, and holed up in a tiny second-floor apartment surrounded by concrete, I decided to invent a family tradition: tea on the first day of spring. I can’t remember what the menu was for that first tea, but I remember spending a good bit of time preparing and then pulling out the teacups for my husband and I to enjoy the feast together.

Over the years our tea has changed. Many years it is now just the children and I who partake as my husband might be busy with work. One year I was too sick to bake anything and I think we had to buy a baked good to enjoy. Two things are now absolute tradition: we use the early spring flowers embroidered tablecloth I found one day in a secondhand shop and we always have strawberries. On the day of spring tea I don’t care that strawberries are out of season and taste like watery styrofoam. They are a harbinger of things to come and that’s what our spring tea is all about.

CREAM FILLED STRAWBERRIES
(Heather)
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2 pounds strawberries
8 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. lemon zest (optional)
chocolate to decorate (optional)

Wash strawberries. Cut a tiny bit off the bottom of each berry so it can stand on a plate. Cut the green leaves off the top and, using a strawberry huller or small melon baller, gouge out a bit of the inside of the strawberry.

Soften the cream cheese and beat in an electric mixer until smooth. Add the heavy whipping cream and sugar as well as lemon zest if using. Beat until the cream and cream cheese combine and thicken. Transfer cream cheese mixture to a piping bag and pipe into the strawberries. Refrigerate if not eating immediately. Optionally, you can add a flake of chocolate to the top of each strawberry.

Baker’s Delight: Pear Tart

It’s getting towards the end of winter and I’m getting anxious for summer fruits! It’s the perfect time to finish using up your canned and frozen fruits which would be great in this recipe. Today, I’m using fresh pears. This is absolutely one of our favorite desserts. I made this when we were first married and it’s continued to make a regular appearance. I usually make it with canned, fresh, or frozen peaches and that’s still my favorite way but this is really good!

PEAR TART
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3 Tb. butter, melted
3/4 c. plus 1 Tb. sugar, divided
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. finely chopped pecans
1 package (8 oz.) regular or reduced-fat cream cheese
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided
1 large pear, cored and thinly sliced (you can peel if you want)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a tart pan with removable bottom (about an 8-9 inch tart pan). In a small mixing bowl, use a fork to combine melted butter, 1/2 c. of sugar, flour and nuts until crumbly. Press onto the bottom and up the sides of the fluted tart pan.

In another mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in 1/4 c. sugar, egg, vanilla, and 1/4 tsp. cinnamon; spread over the crust. Arrange pears over cream cheese mixture. Combine the remaining 1 tsp. cinnamon and 1 Tb. of sugar; sprinkle over pears.

Bake at 425 degrees for 10 min. Reduce heat to 350 degrees; bake 15-20 min. longer or until filling is set. Cool for 1 hr. on a wire rack. Refrigerate for at least 2 hrs. before serving. Remove sides of pan and slice. Yield: 8-10 servings.