Baking becomes a bit of a challenge for me in the summer, since I don’t care to turn on the oven for long periods of time and heat up the house on a hot July day. This year, however, has been a bit strange weather-wise. Monday offered temps in the 60’s… I had six bananas that were heavily speckled with brown spots… and a lack of Candy Crush lives.
I really liked how this turned out. Most of the time banana bread is dense and mushy. This recipe (from America’s Test Kitchen) solved that problem by removing and reducing the moisture in the bananas. It may take a few minutes longer to make than other recipes, but it’s worth it! The sugar sprinkled on the top caramelizes the banana slices and gives the loaf a crispy crust. You can add 1/2 cup of chopped toasted walnuts to the batter before putting it in the loaf pan… if you like that sort of thing.
8.75 ounces all-purpose flour (1 3/4 cups)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
6 large very ripe bananas, peeled
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 large eggs
5.25 ounces light brown sugar (3/4 cup packed)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.
- Place 5 bananas in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents. Microwave on high for 4-5 minutes until the bananas are soft and have released a lot of liquid. Strain the bananas in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and allow the liquid to drain, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. You should end up with somewhere between 1/2 to 3/4 cup of liquid.
- Transfer the liquid to a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the banana liquid is reduced to 1/4 cup. Place the microwaved bananas in a medium bowl, add the reduced liquid and mash with a potato masher until fairly smooth.
- Whisk in the butter, eggs, brown sugar and vanilla. If your bowl of bananas seems particularly hot after mashing, let it cool for a few minutes so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs in your batter (ewww).
- Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Do not over mix.
- Spray a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with vegetable oil spray and scrape batter into the loaf pan. Even it out with a spatula.
- Slice the remaining banana diagonally into 1/8 inch thick slices and shingle the bananas on top of either side of the loaf. Make sure you have at least 1.5 inches of space down the center of the loaf to ensure an even rise. It should look like this:
- Sprinkle the 2 teaspoons of sugar evenly over the entire loaf.
- Bake at 350 degrees in the center of the oven for about 50-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Start checking at 50 minutes.
- Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then remove from the pan and finish cooling on the rack.
This is truly best the same day it’s made, but you can wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store it on the counter for up to 3 days, however once wrapped it does lose some of the crispiness on top, but it’s still delicious!
This is not something I normally make during the summertime, however last week we had two unseasonably cool days, so I was willing to heat up the house a bit. This soup is thick and creamy… and with some bread or croissants, you can definitely make a meal out of it. It should be noted that this is not a quick meal, you will need a couple of hours to make this, but it’s not all active cooking time. Here’s what you’ll need:
4 large russet potatoes
1 pound thick cut bacon
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons bacon fat* (see note below)
2/3 cup flour
8 cups milk
6-8 green onions, thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons minced fresh chives
8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon table salt
1 Tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
*If using bacon fat in the soup weirds you out, you could substitute more butter instead. Using some bacon fat really gives the soup a full, well rounded, bacon-y flavor.
- Bake the potatoes as you normally would for a dinner side dish. I usually pick out the 4 largest potatoes I can find at the grocery store, poke them a few times with a fork (to release steam… you don’t want a potato explosion in your oven, do you?) and bake them at 350 degrees for about 75 minutes. Sometimes they take a little longer. I usually start checking them after an hour. I wish I had a better way to describe when the potatoes are done, but I don’t. It’s when they “feel right.” I suppose if you’ve never baked a potato before, this recipe probably isn’t for you. No need to oil the skins or salt them or anything. You’ll be removing the skin later. Allow the baked potatoes to cool on a cooling rack for one hour.
- Cook the bacon until crispy. You can do it in a frying pan on the stove, but I prefer to do it on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper in the oven. The bacon cooks much more evenly. You want the bacon to be fairly well done (but don’t burn it!). Once you add it to the soup later, the bacon loses some crispiness as it absorbs soup liquid, so if you start with undercooked, fattier bits, they’ll be really rubbery in the final product – not good. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat and set aside.
- Chop the cooked bacon into bits and set aside.
- Peel the potatoes with your hands. It will be easier than you think, but may take some time. Cut potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes. If you want bigger chunks, that’s fine. Do whatever you want. I just like smaller bite sized potato pieces in my soup. Set aside the cubed potatoes.
- Add the butter and bacon fat to a large pot or dutch oven. Melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and whisk together to form a roux. Cook over low heat about 5 minutes, until bubbly.
- Slowly add the 8 cups of milk, whisking constantly. Do your best to not form lumps of roux within the milk. If your roux seems to be clumping, just keep whisking. It’ll all work itself out. Once all of the milk is added, turn the heat up to medium and continue whisking constantly until the mixture starts steaming and begins to thicken, but isn’t simmering yet.
- Once it starts to thicken slightly, add the potatoes, onions and chives. Stir with a wooden spoon constantly until the soup comes to a simmer. During this time it will get significantly thicker. Be sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pot while you’re stirring. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the bacon, stir to combine.
- Add the shredded cheese, 1/2 cup at a time. Stir each addition until completely melted. If you add all 8 ounces at once, you risk the cheese not melting properly, and you certainly don’t want to ruin your soup at this stage.
- Add the sour cream, salt and pepper. Stir until sour cream is melted into the soup.
- Add additional salt and pepper to taste.
- Garnish with additional cheese, bacon and chives.
With the holiday weekend approaching, I thought I’d post one of my best adult beverage creations. Miss Gillette can attest to their awesomeness (after much discussion, we have determined Hermione would not be an appropriate title, and so Miss Gillette was conceived).
This is a pretty fabulous cocktail. While it may take a little more work than most, your patience will be rewarded. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 6-8 mint leaves
- 1/2 of a lime
- 1.5 oz. Bacardi Limon
- 1 oz. strawberry simple syrup (recipe below)
- club soda
First, you’ll need to make the simple syrup:
Strawberry simple syrup
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups strawberries, quartered
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the strawberries. Boil gently until the strawberries are mushy and the mixture becomes thick, about 10 minutes. Keep an eye on it, because it can burn or boil over. You may need to adjust the heat as the mixture reduces and thickens. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Strain the remaining berry solids through a fine mesh strainer and discard the solids. Put the syrup in an air tight container and refrigerate until use. I like to put mine in this salad dressing shaker,
B-Bones photo bombed this one.
- Place mint leaves in a mortar and pestle, and sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of sugar over the leaves. Muddle the leaves until bruised (the bit of sugar helps to make quick work of this process). If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use a small bowl or custard cup and the back of a spoon. This step is important, as it releases the oils in the mint leaves.
- Add mint leaves to a tall glass.
- Juice half of a lime, and add the juice to the glass.
- Add the Bacardi and strawberry simple syrup.
- Add ice and fill the rest of the glass with club soda.
- Stir gently and garnish with sliced strawberries, limes and mint leaves, of desired.
If you’re having a party, you can multiply this recipe by 10 or 20. All you need to do make a whole bunch of the cocktail base, which is everything but the ice and club soda. Keep the cocktail base ready in the fridge (I usually put mine in a juice pitcher). When your guests are ready for a cocktail, fill a glass with ice. Pour the cocktail base over the ice until the glass is about 1/3 full. Fill the remainder of the glass with club soda and stir gently.
You can play around with the proportions of the ingredients to your liking. If you want it sweeter, add more syrup… and if it’s too sweet, add less.