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Maple-Banana Bread

banana-maple bread

We got 28.5 inches of snow here in Philadelphia over the last 24 hours. I bought oranges, lemons and grapefruit yesterday before the storm hit, thinking that I might take advantage of the snow day and make a batch of mixed citrus marmalade.

Instead, I embraced the slowness of the snow and rambled through the day. I walked over to my cousins’ house and spent a couple of hours helping celebrate Derek’s third birthday. Back at home, I did some dishes and organized canning jars (I invest more time in this particular endeavor than I care to admit). For dinner, I quickly cooked some broccoli and reheated the rest of the chicken pot pie I made on Thursday night. And I transformed some seriously blackened bananas into Maple-Banana Bread.

I’d been watching these bananas get progressively blacker and less appealing for most of the week. Each time I made dinner, I’d move them from one counter top and then back again, always mentally promising them that I’d use them before they were beyond salvation. Today, with the snow and general coziness, baking just felt like the obvious choice.

I used to be devoted to the banana bread recipe in the late sixties edition of The Joy of Cooking (when left to its own devices, my mother’s copy opens right to that recipe). However, over the years I’ve tweaked it so thoroughly, that it’s hardly related to the original. This version lives on an index card in my kitchen, tucked between the radio and my kitchen scale. Made with whole wheat pastry flour, wheat germ and maple syrup, it manages to be tender and not too sweet (perfect with a dab of apple or pear butter!).

So gather your aging bananas and bake up a batch this weekend!

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Gift in a Jar: Homemade Crackers

crackers on a shelf

Last Saturday, Scott and I did a cooking demo at Foster’s Homewares in Old City Philadelphia. We’ve been doing these for nearly two full years now, a live version of Fork You, our online cooking show. We made a small array of nibbly little appetizers, things that would be perfect to serve at a holiday party or to bring with you to some seasonal potluck. They were also all virtuously cheap.

On the menu was a caramelized onion and thyme jam (served on some baguette toasts), a warm cranberry-orange compote that I poured over a log of goat cheese and some homemade crackers that we used to eat the cranberries and cheese. The results were delicious and those that had braved the snow happily ate up all that we made.

baked crackers

As I was planning out those recipes, I kept thinking that bringing the homemade cracker recipe to this blog wasn’t an entirely bad idea. You see, as delicious as it is to give someone a jar of homemade jam or chutney for the holidays, sometimes you want to bring balance to the offering with a nice, easy vehicle for your handmade spread. If you’re really feeling generous, you can also include a nice round or wedge of cheese that will pair nicely with the jam (feel free to copy me and get yourself a log of nice, mild chevre. It goes with just about any sweet preserve).

The other thing about homemade crackers is that they impress people to no end. Give them jam and they’re happy, but tell them you made the crackers and their jaws just drop. I took a platter of these crackers to a party on Saturday night and when I told people that they were a product of my kitchen, they were floored. It was as if I had demonstrated an ability to fly that simply required some speedy arm flapping.

pint of crackers

If you have enough spares, feel free to package the crackers in jars for gifting. A wide mouth quart jar of crackers (perhaps with the recipe tucked inside, so that they can replenish the stash when they’re all gone) paired with a jar of homemade spread would be such a treat.

If your holiday gift fund doesn’t stretch to cover another dozen jars, another nice way to package the crackers is to put them in a zip top bag that you then tuck into a small-ish brown paper bag. The plastic bag keeps the air out and the paper one maintains the rustic, homemade look. If you have kids, you can give them the project of decorating the paper bags (prior to putting the crackers in them), so that they’re all colorful and unique.

The recipe for the crackers is after the jump. Enjoy!

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Whole Wheat Millet Pumpkin Bread

Whole Wheat Millet Pumpkin Bread

Last week, I wrote about things you can do with pumpkin puree. Here’s what I ended up doing with mine. It’s a little quick bread I tossed together this afternoon that has a really nice crumb and uses toasted millet instead of nuts for crunch (good if you cook for someone with a nut allergy).

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Empty Kitchen French Toast

french toast makings

We’ve been back from our honeymoon for the last couple of days, but I haven’t done much of anything creative in the kitchen as of yet. I’m still eying the pile of wedding gifts, trying to incorporate the new gadgets and pots into my already overfull galley (truly, a blessed problem to have). However, the very first morning we were back, weary of having to shower and dress before venturing out for breakfast, I made my lazy morning specialty.

French toast is one of those meals that doesn’t really require a recipe. It’s about taking a few end bits from the refrigerator and making a meal that elevates those humble, half-stale, slightly sour ingredients into something satisfying (and refreshingly cheap)! In our case, I didn’t even have to resort to the slightly sour, as there was an unopened quart of half and half in the fridge with an expiration date that was still three weeks in the future. There were also three lonely eggs and four slices of multi-grain bread (two of which were the heels).

Soaking bread

I beat those eggs in a shallow dish with several glugs of the half and half, until it was a mellow lemon color. Some cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg joined the egg mixture and a slice of bread went in. I heated my pancake/french toast griddle over medium heat and added a mostly unnecessary slick of butter (that griddle has been so well loved that it’s seasoned to the point where grease is hardly needed. But butter is so delicious).

My dad taught me to make french toast when I was young, and the point he always stressed was that it was important to give the bread a good soaking (but to watch carefully that you don’t oversoak). You want to get enough egg mixture into the fibers of the bread so that it puffs up like a custard while cooking. If your bread is particularly stale (which mine was), use a fork to score the slices in order to aid egg absorption.

french toast on griddle

Once your first slice is sufficiently saturated, carefully transfer it your pan. Follow suit with the rest of the slices of bread, as they’re ready. My griddle can accommodate four slices of bread, but if you don’t have such a roomy cooking vessel, feel free to cook them one or two at a time in frying pan (just don’t let them soak to bits if you’re using a smaller pan). Cook over medium heat, so that the slices have a chance to cook all the way through.

Scott eating french toast

Serve on a messy dining table, with some previously canned pear butter or some Vermont maple syrup.

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Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread

two loaves zucchini bread

I made my first loaf of quick bread when I was seven years old (under very close supervision from my mother). It was from the back of a children’s book called Cranberry Christmas and it quickly became a holiday tradition (I still make it, with just a few alternations to this day).

Twenty plus years later, quick breads are still one of my favorite things to bake (I have several beloved banana bread recipes, as well as that delicious yogurt loaf). This time of year, when the zucchini plants threaten to take over garden plots and summer squash can be gotten for pennies, the quick bread is most decidedly a good friend to the gardener and cook. This recipe is easy to stir together, makes quick work of a nice-sized zucchini and is amazingly moist. It’s also fairly healthy, packed with whole grains and containing just one stick of butter between the two loaves.

One thing to keep in mind when making this bread. It’s not a super sweet loaf, and I’ve made it that way by design. I like to eat it for breakfast, and at that time of the day, I don’t want to be eating cake. However, if you want a more assertively sweet flavor, I’d add another 1/2 cup of sucanat or sugar (or just spread your slice with a bit of peach or apricot jam).

Go forth and bake!

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Yogurt & Olive Oil Cake with Orange

nearly-empty-pan

Each time I find myself wanting to post a recipe here that is not jar-related, I tie myself up in knots for a moment, worrying that it is unseemly to break out from the blogging rubric I’ve set up for myself.  Then I remind myself that this is my blog and I can do with it what I want. Besides, there are times when all you want a simple little loaf cake to go along side those jams and marmalades. And for those moments, this is a near-perfect treat.

I baked this one up on Sunday morning, intentionally splitting the batter unevenly between two half-sized glass loaf pans. The larger was destined for a friend who had a baby just three weeks ago and the smaller one stayed home. Una (the new mama) is the type of person I’ve always admired. She is so good about taking time for herself, even if it’s only a few moments, and, for as long as I’ve known her, has often done so in the afternoons with a slice of something sweet and a cup of coffee with milk. Goodness knows that this new baby will ruffle her previous patterns, but I felt like it was the least I could do to take her a treat that would allow her that recall those afternoon moments of calm.

The smaller loaf, the one that stayed home, was eaten up in short order as well. I left Scott alone at home with it while I was visiting Una, and when I returned, a big hunk was missing. We whittled it down to the final slice you see above before I realized I wanted to grab a picture. We split that last piece just before turning out the lights and heading to bed.

It’s a good, simple little cake that I adapted from a Dorie Greenspan recipe. I’ve dialed down the sugar a bit, wanting to ensure that it wouldn’t be cloying with the addition of jam and swapped out her lime zest for orange (I had two oranges and no limes on a Sunday morning, so I made do). I also used a bit less oil than she called for, because my yogurt was unusually runny and I didn’t want the batter to be too loose.

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