Banana Cream Cheese Muffins

Monday is here again. By Sunday night, I tend to start to get that dreaded feeling of facing the week ahead. No more sleeping in or going about as I please. It’s back to the daily grind and Friday seems so far away. Mondays don’t get a lot of love, but it’s time to change that. It’s time to start looking Monday square in the face with a big smile. There’s no way of avoiding it, so why not make the most of it? And why not do it with one of these banana cream cheese muffins?

These muffins are an adaptation of my favorite banana bread recipe with a delightful dollop of cream cheese filling in the center of this flavorful cake. It’s a tasty breakfast treat and will give you just enough moxy to say, “bring it on, Monday.”

Bring it on, Monday! ;)

Banana Cream Cheese Muffins

Printable Version

Yield: 1 dozen large muffins

Ingredients:

For the cream cheese filling:

  • 4 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar

For the muffins:

  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 4 large, very ripe bananas
  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¾ cup packed dark brown sugar

Directions:

1. To make the filling, whip the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add in the powdered sugar until combined.

2. Transfer the cream cheese mixture to a piece of plastic wrap and roll into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place in the freezer for about 1 hour to allow to harden.

3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12 cup muffin tin with spray oil. Set aside.

4. To make the banana bread, place the bananas in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and slit a few slices in it to act as a vent. Microwave for 5 minutes.

5. Remove from the microwave and place the banana mixture in a sieve over a bowl and gently stir. Allow it to sit for about 15 minutes to ensure the excess liquid drains from the bananas.

6. Transfer the banana liquid to a small saucepan and cook on medium heat until it reduces to about 1/4 cup. This takes about 5 minutes.

7. Combine the bananas and the banana liquid in a bowl and mix until smooth. Add in the vanilla, eggs, and butter. Stir.

8. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl. Gradually add to the banana mixture and mix until just combined.

9.  Remove the cream cheese mixture from the freezing. Retrieve the muffin tin and fill each cup about halfway full with the banana batter. Cut a 1 inch slice from the cream cheese log and place on top. Add another scoop of the banana batter.

10. Place in the oven and bake for 22 minutes, or until the muffin springs back when you touch it. Cool on a baking rack for 10 minutes. Remove from the tin and allow to cool completely. Enjoy!

Source: Banana bread and cream cheese filling adapted from Annie’s Eats, originally from Cook’s Illustrated and BakeSpace

Food Memory Friday: Nana’s Chocolate Chip and Whipped Cream Frosting

Nana’s chocolate chip and whipped cream frosting is the food memory of all food memories. This delicious treat has been a staple in my mom’s side of the family for a long time. Nana was my mother’s paternal grandmother and my great grandmother. I never had the opportunity of meeting her as she passed away 3 years before I was born, which happened to coincidentally be only days after my sister was born (my parents joked that Selby was the one who did her in). ;)

This frosting is rich, fluffy, and similar to a mousse. My mother always prepares it with angel food cake and whenever she makes it, she always recounts how excited she would get as a little girl when she discovered this dessert in the fridge. I was the same way.

From what I’ve heard, Nana was quite a lady. She raised five children during the depression and wasn’t afraid to give a few good spankings. My mom tells stories of spending summers with Nana and Dadsey (her grandfather) in Willard, Ohio when she was young, where she would stroll along the storefront windows and follow adults around all day. I can imagine that Nana made this specialty several times while my mom was staying with them. It’s comfort food at its best and I love that my mom was able to recreate this dessert for special occasions while we were growing up. I hope to continue to pass this recipe down as the generations pass.

Thanks for the food memory, Nana.

Nana and my Aunt Molly in Willard, OH. Circa 1955?

Nana’s Chocolate Chip and Whipped Cream Frosting

Printable Version

Yield: About 6 cups of fluffiness

Ingredients

  • 1 16 oz package of semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 pint (2 cups) heavy whipping cream

Directions

1.Melt the chocolate chips over a double broiler or in the microwave until smooth and shiny.

2. Remove from heat and add in the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla. Beat until combined.

3. In another bowl, whip the egg whites in until they form a soft peak. Gently fold into the chocolate mixture and mix until combined.

4. In a separate bowl, beat the whipping cream until fluffy. Carefully add into the chocolate mixture and fold until combined.

5. Serve with angel food cake and refrigerate until chilled.

Angel Food Cake

Making angel food cake from scratch has been a bit of a personal quest for me. My first attempt ended in dismal failure. I was so young and foolish back then; a young 21 year-old newlywed of barely two months trying to make a dessert to bring to dinner at my in-laws. I was feeling ambitious and decided I would try to make an angel food cake without using a box mix. I found a recipe and it seemed simple enough. False. I ended up with a 3 inch tall hockey puck and had to quickly scramble to the nearest bakery to pick up an already-made version. “I will try to make homemade angel food cake again,” I vowed to myself that day. It wasn’t until I was a more mature 23 that I tried to make the cake from scratch once more. This time I used a different recipe. A tried and true one from Baking Illustrated. “This should surely work,” I confidently thought. Wrong again. It turns out, the problem was me. I failed to properly beat the egg whites and the angel food cake came out dense and tough. After I finally learned how to properly beat egg whites, I was so timid that I didn’t mix the batter enough and there ended up being clumps of flour in the cake. It seemed as if it wasn’t meant to be. That is, until last spring. Hardened from several battles with this devilish cake, I rolled up my sleeves and gave it another go. This time the stars aligned and out of the oven came a tall, fluffy, and golden brown angel food cake. There may have been tears of joy involved.

My heart can rest easily knowing that I am now at peace with angel food cake and I no longer have to hold my breath while I’m making it. :)

Angel Food Cake

Yield: 10-12 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (3 ounces) sifted cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups (10 ounces) sifted sugar
  • 12 large egg whites (1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons), at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Directions:

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Clean a 9-inch diameter ungreased large tube pan and set aside.

2. Whisk the flour and 3/4 cup sugar in a small bowl. Place the remaining 3/4 cup sugar in another small bowl near the mixer.

3. Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer just until broken up and beginning to foam. Add the cream of tartar and salt and beat at medium speed until the whites form soft, billowy mounds.

4. With the mixer still at medium, gradually at the remaining sugar, 1 tablespoon at time. Stop when the whites are glossy and form soft peaks.

5. Add in the vanilla, lemon juice, and almond extract and beat just until blended.

6. Place the flour-sugar mixture in a sifter over parchment or waxed paper. Sift the mixture over the whites, about 3 tablespoons at a time.

7. Gently fold in, using a large rubber spatula. Sift any of the flour-sugar mixture that falls onto the paper back into the whites.

8. Carefully scrape the batter into the pan, smooth the top with a spatula, and tap the pan on the counter a few times to release any large air bubbles.

9. Bake until the cake is golden brown, and springs back when pressed firmly, about 50-60 minutes.

10. If the cake has prongs around the rim for elevating the cake, invert the pan onto them. If not, invert the pan onto the neck of a bottle or funnel. Allow the cake to cool completely, 2 to 3 hours.

11. Run a knife around the edges of the pan. Slid the cake out of the pan and cut the same way around the removable pan. Store in an airtight container.

Source: Baking Illustrated

How to Beat Perfect Egg Whites

Oh egg whites. I never realized there was such an art to beating these protein-packed puppies until I started baking a lot of things from scratch. Cream of tartar, soft peaks, stiff peaks… what did it all mean!?! My lack of knowledge for beating egg whites has caused me to ruin a number of cookies, cakes, and frostings. After several flops, my ineptitude finally lead me to seriously research the topic so I could confidently conquer this sometimes finicky method. It turns out, there are some great fail-proof ways to ensure you have billowing and beautiful egg whites whenever you please-except, maybe, on a very humid day in the middle of July. ;)

I’ve included what I’ve learned, along with pictures, below.

Happy Monday!

How to Beat Perfect Egg Whites

1. Start out with cold eggs, as they are easier to separate. Separate egg yolks and whites, making sure no yolks are mixed in with the whites (I like to use pre-separated egg whites from the grocery store when I’m in a hurry).

2. Cover the whites with plastic wrap and allow to warm to room temperature, for about 30 minutes. You can speed up this process by placing the bowl of egg whites in a bowl of hot, but not boiling water and gently stirring for about two minutes. Having them at room temperature allows the protein to maximally expand, which ensures you get the most volume out of your egg whites (apparently I do use those college chemistry courses in everyday life ;) ).

3. Before you beat the whites, be sure you have a clean and dry electric beaters as well as a large stainless steel, glass, or copper bowl. Any fat left on the bowl or beaters will prevent peaks from forming.

4. With the mixer on low speed, beat the whites until are frothy then add 1/8 tsp of an acid (cream of tartar, vinegar, or lemon juice) per egg to help stabilize the whites and prevent over beating.*

5. After the whites are frothy, gradually increase the speed of the mixers to medium-high. Once you are beating the eggs, you don’t want to stop for long periods of time as the whites will start to disintegrate. For a recipe that calls for soft peak egg whites, stop when the whites form rounded peaks that droop when the beaters are lifted. Be sure to scrape along the bottom of the bowl.

6. If the recipe you are using requires sugar, gradually start adding the sugar at the soft peak stage. For best results, only add 2 tablespoons at a time to allow the sugar to dissolve after each addition.

7. For stiff peaks, stop when the whites form glossy peaks that hold their shape when the beaters are lifted.STOP mixing when you reach this stage. Over beaten egg whites are clumpy and watery and are irreparable, so be careful not to reach this point.

8. Use the whites immediately.

*When making meringues, only add 1/8 tsp for every 2 egg whites.

Sources: Baking Illustrated, Good Housekeeping, About.com, Epicurious.com

Crab Cakes and Lemon Aioli

Crab cakes are something that I love to order at restaurants, even if we are smack dab in the middle of Ohio. They’re a deliciously delicate savory treat that I had only made once before. That is, until I found this recipe. I was surfing the Food & Wine website and stumbled across Mrs. Duvall’s Crab Cakes, which happens to be a staff-favorite recipe that comes from a chef who grew up in Maryland. I  knew these delights were bound to be good. And boy were they. They have a perfect blend of spices that don’t outshine the crab meat and crushed crackers are the crispy and crunchy binder that bring it all together.

Even better, these crab cakes are simple to whip up and can be made into cakes the night before they need to be pan-fried. For a nice compliment to the cakes, I made a simple lemon aioli. Aioli, which is basically a doctored up mayonsaise, goes really well with seafood dishes and these crab cakes are no exception. I went with this lemon aioli version, which is very similar to one my mom prepares when she makes shrimp. If you’re a hesitant about the mayonnaise, I think you could get away with substituting plain Greek yogurt. I may have to try that next time around.

I can’t wait to make these cakes again. They would be a great appetizer or main dish to serve for an extra special meal, or just when you are feeling extra special. :)

Happy Friday, everyone!

Crab Cakes with Lemon Aioli

Printable Version

Yield: 10 3-inch crab cakes

Ingredients

For the crab cakes:

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over
  • 1 cup finely crushed soda crackers
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

For the lemon aioli:

  • 3/4 cup mayonaisse
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 clove of fresh garlic, minced
  • 5-6 dashes of Tabasco sauce, or to taste
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. To make the aioli, mix together the mayo, lemon juice, garlic, Tabasco, and salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, onion, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, salt and cayenne. Gently fold in the crabmeat and 1/4 cup of the cracker crumbs. Shape the mixture into 10 cakes about 1 inch thick. Coat the crab cakes with the remaining cracker crumbs and transfer to a large plate.
  3. In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in 2 tablespoons of the oil. When the foam subsides, add half of the crab cakes and cook over moderate heat until golden and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Drain the crab cakes on paper towels, then keep warm in warmed oven. Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoons of oil and cook the remaining crab cakes. Serve with lemon wedges and cold aioli.

Source: Crab Cakes- Food & Wine; Aioli- Lolly’s Sweet & Savory Treats

Snow Skiing and Ho Ho Cake

This past weekend, Robert and I went skiing with a group of friends in Hidden Valley, Pennsylvania. We stayed in a house on the resort and spent 2 days skiing and enjoying being snowed in. The weather was cold. And since we have had a freakishly warm winter thus far, it took a little getting used to. Luckily, we packed enough clothes and we had tons of fun skiing, even if we could barely walk by the end of the trip. When we weren’t skiing, we played games, watched movies, and ate (skiing burns a lot of calories, right?).

It also happened to be Stacy’s 25th birthday and I made a ho ho cake to help celebrate. A ho ho cake is pretty much just like it sounds- chocolate cake, cream filling, and chocolate glaze. I added chocolate ganache and fresh raspberries for a simple and feminine decoration. The end result was very rich and decadent dessert that isn’t appropriate for non-chocolate lovers. :)

We had a really fun weekend and I can’t wait to go skiing again. I guess I’ll go ahead and say it, bring on the snow!

This masked man also happens to be my husband

A beautifully sunny day for skiing

This picture was captured after they were all forced to hug

Warming his tootsies

Token “hot chocolate by the fire” shot

Ho Ho Cake

Ingredients

For the glaze:

  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed
  • 1/2 cup baking cocoa
  • 1 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons milk

For the filling:

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt

For the ganache:

  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature

Directions

For the glaze:

For glaze, melt butter and cocoa in a small saucepan. Whisk in confectioners’ sugar and enough milk to achieve a drizzling consistency. Drizzle over top of cake, allowing some to drape down the sides.

For the filling:

In a small saucepan, combine flour and milk until smooth; stir in 1/3 cup sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Transfer to a large bowl; cool. Beat in the butter, vanilla, salt and remaining sugar until smooth. Spread between cake layers.

For the ganache:

Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl.  Heat the cream in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Immediately remove from the heat and pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate.  Let stand 1-2 minutes, then whisk together until a smooth, thick ganache is formed.  Whisk in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time until completely incorporated.  Let the ganache sit to thicken a bit so that it is suitable for spreading and piping.

Carefully cut each 9 inch round in half. Spread the filling between each layer. Top with glaze. Let harden and then pipe on ganache. Top with raspberries if desired.

Source: Filling and glaze- adapted from Taste of Home; Ganache- Annie’s Eats

Italian Sausage and Pepper Pasta

Robert and I, along with a group of friends are heading to Pennsylvania this weekend for a snow skiing getaway. Things always seem to get really busy right before leaving town. Bert’s been traveling for work and I’ve been working longer hours so I can get done with work early before our mini vacation begins. Thank goodness I found this recipe this week. It’s fast, easy to make, and very nutritious. Italian sausage, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, and fresh basil make this a  fresh and filling dish. It makes tasty leftovers as well.

Happy weekend, everyone! I will be posting about our ski trip next week. :)

Italian Sausage and Pepper Pasta

Printable Version

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound(s) uncooked turkey sausage(s), Italian-style, casings removed
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup red wine (I used Zinfandel)
  • 1 fresh clove of garlic
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 8 oz whole wheat pasta, uncooked
  • 1/3 fresh basil, chopped
  • Freshly grated parmesan, optional

Directions

  • Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.
  • Meanwhile, to make sauce, in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, cook sausage, stirring and breaking up meat with back of a wooden spoon, until cooked through, about 3 to 5 minutes; remove to a plate.
  • Heat oil in same skillet. Add peppers and onion; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are lightly colored and crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.
  • Add wine and garlic; cook until most of liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, crushed red pepper, salt and browned sausage; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until vegetables are tender and sauce is heated through, about 10 minutes.
  • While sauce simmers, add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package instructions. Drain pasta; return to pot. Add sauce and basil; toss to mix and coat. Top with parmesan. Yields about 1 1/3 cups per serving.

Source: Weight Watchers

Puppy Chow

My brother-in-law, Kenny, was sick this past weekend. If there’s one thing I know about Kenny, besides the fact that he likes to purposely push my buttons, it’s that the lad loves puppy chow. Puppy chow, or sometimes called Muddy Buddies (?), is a chocolate and peanut butter Chex mix delight. It takes less than 15 minutes to throw together and it’s always a hit.

Kenny came over for dinner (and a round of Modern Warfare with Robert) and I sent him home with a bag of this mix. He seems to be on the mend and I’m chalking it up to the old puppy chow cure. ;) Love ya, Ken!

Puppy Chow

Printable Version

Yield: 18 servings

Ingredients

  • 9 cups Corn Chex cereal
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Directions

Pour the Corn Chex cereal into a large bowl. Set aside. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips, peanut butter, and butter, stirring after every 30 seconds until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Pour over the cereal and gently stir until all the cereal pieces have been coated.

Transfer the cereal mixture to a large food storage plastic bag. Carefully pour the powdered sugar in the bag. Seal the bag. Shake until all the pieces are covered.

Source: General Mills Corn Chex Cereal

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

The weather in Ohio has been unseasonably warm the past week. The sun is shining. People are out walking and running around our neighborhood. You really can’t tell it’s January. I could get used to this. All the sunshine makes me excited for summertime, even if it is five months away.

During the summer my parents spend a lot of time up at their cottage on Lake Erie. It’s so much fun, especially since we have a lot of extended nearby. My aunt Molly often stops in and she seems to frequently bring some sort of hummus with her. So, when I found a can of garbanzo beans and canned roasted red peppers, I decided to make this hummus in honor of her, dreaming of the endless days of summer. It’s a flavorful, delicious and healthy dip for vegetables and baked pita chips and it would also be very tasty as a condiment on a wrap or sandwich.

I found this recipe while surfing the web and it calls for tahini, or sesame paste. I was all set to buy it at the grocery store until I saw it sitting on the shelves with a hefty price tag of $11. I quickly decided this would be a tahini-less recipe. And the hummus was still glorious.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Printable Version

Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, and seeded (I used a jarred version I already had on hand)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped red onion
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions

Place all the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Stop and scrape down the sides as necessary. Serve with vegetables and/or baked pita chips. Store in a covered container in the fridge for up to a week.

Source: Slightly adapted from Pinch My Salt

Chocolate Orange Sable Cookies

Chocolate and orange has become one of my favorite flavor combinations. So, when I saw the recipe for these orange sable (French for “sandy”) cookies, I thought a chocolate orange drizzle would make these cookies a citrus-lovers dream. With zest in the cookie and in the chocolate glaze, people needing an orange fix won’t be disappointed. The oranges are extra delicious this time of year, so I am finding any excuse to take advantage of the seasonal deliciousness.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Chocolate Orange Sable Cookies

Printable Version

Yield: About 5 dozen cookies

Ingredients

For the Cookies

  • 1 1/4 cups whole blanched almonds or 3/4 cup ground almonds
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated orange zest (2 to 3 oranges)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

For the Glaze

  • 2 tsp fresh orange zest
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Place almonds and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal; set aside.
  2. Place butter and zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. With the mixer on low, add almond mixture; beat until combined, 10 to 15 seconds. Add egg and orange juice; combine. Add flour; combine.
  3. Place two 12-by-16-inch pieces of parchment on a clean work surface. Divide dough in half. Form a rough log with each half; place on parchment. Fold parchment over dough; use a ruler to roll and press dough into 1 1/2-inch-diameter logs. Wrap. Chill for at least 3 hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.  Unwrap logs. Cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds; place on sheets, 1 inch apart. Bake until edges turn golden, about 15 minutes, rotating halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  5. To make the glaze, melt the chocolate and orange zest in in a double boiler or microwave. With a fork or in a ziploc bag with an edge cut off, carefully drizzle the glaze across the cookies. Allow to harden. Store baked cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Source: Adapted from Martha Stewart