Easy Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

banana bread

Last Monday night, in the midst of finishing my final holiday canning projects (I made a big batch of this cranberry apple jam to give to our collective co-workers and supervisors), doing laundry so that I could pack for my trip to Oregon and giving the apartment a good once-over so that I didn’t leave it in ruins, I also managed to make a batch of chocolate chip banana bread.

I had four blackened bananas in the fruit bowl and couldn’t bear to let them go to waste. I nearly tossed them in the freezer, but quarters tight in there at the moment and I’ve already got approximately 12 halved frozen bananas occupying valuable space. It was either use ‘em up or let ‘em go. Besides, there’s nothing so calming as a bit of unnecessary baking in the midst of holiday frenzy. It’s akin to cleaning the house from top to bottom when you’re writing a book. Of course, I wouldn’t know anything about that kind of procrastination. Nope, not me.

bitten banana bread

But anyway, back to the banana bread. This is a recipe I first discovered on Orangette, who adapted it from Jeannette at Everybody Likes Sandwiches, who herself altered it from a recipe entitled Willie Nelson’s Famous Banana Bread. Quite a pedigree, wouldn’t you say?

I made it three years ago, around the time Molly first published the recipe. I took it to a writing retreat and left it in the kitchen, my offering to the communal snack table. A few hours later the pan was half empty and by the next day the banana bread was present in memory only. I made it once or twice more and then promptly forgot about it. My maple banana bread became my default and I thought all was right in the my quick bread world.

But on Monday night, I wanted something easy and fast. One bowl, preferably. As I stood in the kitchen pondering my options (and wondering whether it was insane to make banana bread at all), the memory of this recipe popped into my head. It satisfied all my demands (minimal dishes, used things I had, delicious) and so I set to work.

Less than an hour later, I had a pan of lovely banana bread. The remnants are now in Oregon with me (Scott is not a banana lover, so leaving it in Philly would have defeated my “Save the Bananas” mission). My sister has been nabbing nibbles from the container since I arrived (I found a piece this morning with a perfect half-moon bite missing) and I discovered this morning that it is amazing crumbled on top of warm oatmeal.

I’m not suggesting you make this now. I know that oven space is precious in the hours leading up to Christmas (I still need to make an apple pie, a pumpkin cheesecake and a batch of gingerbread cookies). However, if you have a bit of time off in the next week and a few withered bananas, this could be just the thing.

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Winners of Gifts Cooks Love and The Yogurt Bible

Thanks to all who entered the Gifts Cooks Love and The Yogurt Bible giveaway! The winners are #125 Jess F. (she gets Gifts Cooks Love) and #268 Tammy B. (The Yogurt Bible is hers). Ladies, I’ll be in touch soon to get all your pertinent details. I hope you all find many wonderful cookbooks under your tree this season!

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Edible Gifts: Roasted Chex Mix

chex mix in jars

For most of my childhood, my parents had a small business that produced and distributed music. It was mostly instrumental music and it all started with a Christmas album that my dad and his friend Lewis made. Back in the early eighties, there wasn’t much in the way of instrumental Christmas music. There was plenty of the big band and pop stuff, as well as organ and choir music. But no matter how hard you looked, it was nearly impossible to find lovely, instrumental Christmas music.

measured cereal

So Lewis and my dad made an album (and truly, back in those days it was actually an album, on vinyl and everything) called Collection of Favourite Christmas Carols. Lewis played all various parts on his many guitars and my dad did the recording and designed the packaging. The only problem they faced was that once they had finished creating the album, there wasn’t any way to get it into the hands of the broader public. Thus, a distribution company was born and soon they were distributing thousands of titles to book stores, gift shops and card stores all across the country.

measured nuts

As they worked to create a business around the album, a woman named Eleanor joined the company. She was an old friend of my parents and was hard working, honest and just happened to love Christmas (though I don’t think it was a pre-requisite, it sure helped you survive in a workplace where holiday music played nine months of the year). One of the ways in which Eleanor displayed her holiday fervor was through the annual giving of food packages to her friends and family.

the secret ingredient in chex mix

My sister and I looked forward to the arrival of Eleanor’s goodie bag every year. There would be a divided holiday plate, heaped high with homemade caramels (both regular and chocolate), sugar cookies and a tidily wrapped loaf of sweet nut bread. Along side, there was always a zip top bag, filled to bursting with her deeply toasted Chex Mix. Thing was, this was no ordinary Chex Mix. She always included Cheerios, generous amounts of mixed nuts (the brazil nuts were always my favorite to pick out) and Fritos. Competition over that bag of Chex Mix was fierce and my mom would often resort to hiding it and doling out small portions in Dixie cups.

toasted chex mix

When the internet arrived, the music industry changed and the business eventually disappeared. It has been years since I’ve had the opportunity to taste Eleanor’s Chex Mix. Until now. You see, I’m friends with her daughters on Facebook (they were my childhood babysitters, after all) and so after more than ten years of longing for it, finally hit them up for the recipe. I made it over the weekend and jackpot. It tastes just like it should – buttery, salty and oh so crunchy.

Scott reaching for the chex mix

I’ve realized since making it that this Chex Mix recipe really isn’t too dissimilar to the one on the box. However, what makes this special is the extended roasting. I kept mine in the oven for over an hour, stirring regularly and alternating the trays from top rack to bottom with every stir. I kept it in there until the cereal at the very edges of the pan were almost burnt (but not quite). That’s what it took to really get that familiar, beloved flavor. I suggest you do the same.

Then, I recommend bagging or jarring up the bulk of what you’ve made and taking it to work or dropping some off with a neighbor. Because something this delicious and seductively crunchy is best shared.

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A Few Current Cookbook Favorites + Giveaway

cookbook stack one

Lately, it seems as if every day brings a new gift guide or best cookbooks of the year list from some corner of the internet. I briefly considered putting one or another of my own together, but I did a gift guide last year (and things haven’t changed much in the world of canning since then) and truly, I am not perfectly acquainted with all the new cookbooks that came out this year.

cookbook stack two

Instead, I thought I show you the stack of cookbooks that I’ve been flipping through and using the most lately. Some of these came out this year, but a handful of them are classic books that I’ve loved for years.

How to Feed Your Friends with Relish

How to Feed Your Friends with Relish came out several years ago. However, I only discovered it recently, so it’s happily new to me. It’s just the kind of cookbook I like best, lots of good food and plenty of narrative that allows you to read as if it were a novel. Plus, knowing that it was written by a British author means that when I read it, I can use an English accent in my head, which is a whole other kind of satisfying entertainment.

DIY Delicious

D.I.Y. Delicious by Vanessa Barrington is a book that falls firmly in my wheelhouse and so will certainly appeal to many, many readers of this site. Essentially, she set out to learn how to make a whole world of things we’ve taken to buying at the grocery store. She takes the homemade assignment far further than I do here and shows how to make lovely things like tortillas, worlds of vinaigrettes and sour dough starter.

The Way We Cook

The Way We Cook is a book I first discovered when it first came out in 2003 (in fact, Amazon tells me that I bought it almost exactly seven years ago today) and I love it as much today as I did when it first arrived. In the beginning, it was an aspirational cookbook for me, full of things like seared scallops and many-ingredient stews.

As I became a more confident cook, I grew into it and my copy is now wrinkled and stained. I’ve got good news for you all too. I recently spotted copies at Borders for $4.99, so if it sounds interesting to you, head to your local outpost and see if you can’t score a bargain copy.

Everything Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook

Written by fellow food blogger Rachel Rappaport, The Everything Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook is a fantastic book for those of us who love our slow cookers. The thing I like most about this book is that it has helped me expand my understand of what a slow cooker can do (in the past, I’ve use mine primarily for fruit butters, chicken stock and cooking beans). There are a number of recipes I’ve marked that I hope to try soon. After all, what better time of year for a slow cooker than chilly winter?

Almost Meatless

In recent years, I’ve been working hard to buy better meat. For me, this means that it was locally raised and grass-fed. Of course, that choice comes with a heftier price tag and means that the end result is that we end up eating less meat.

Happily, Almost Meatless has been on my shelf since the spring of 2009, helping me make that good meat taste wonderful and stretch further than I ever thought possible. It’s a really great book that also happens to have been I written by two women I know and adore. However, I’d love it even if they were perfect strangers.

Salted

Written by salt expert Mark Bitterman, Salted, is a glorious book. Admittedly, I was a natural audience for it, as I’ve been obsessed with salt for years now (truly, I have more than eight varieties in my kitchen right now). But even if I was a complete salt novice, I would have been quickly converted by its lovely pictures and pure passion. If you get a book store gift card for the holidays this year and find single subject books fascinating, you should consider splurging on this one.

Love Soup

Not to be totally redundant, but I do truly love soup. Be it bean, chicken, beef or vegetable, I welcome it in my kitchen. I first heard about Love Soup when it came out last fall. I spent a year resisting buying it (when I buy a new cookbook, my husband raises an eyebrow and says, “really? Another one?”) before finally succumbing back in October. Since then, it has served as inspiration for many a warming bowl of soup. When my sister gets married someday, I want to give her a copy of this book paired with a sturdy soup pot.

In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite

You’ve probably heard about In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite already. It’s been something of a food blog darling since it came out this fall. I tend to be a little skeptical of books that get so much attention (I can’t help but root for the underdog), but in this case, the people were right. It’s wonderful. I particularly love the fact that there’s a chapter called ‘Things With Cheese.’ There is no way not to love this book.

The Yogurt Bible

I like yogurt. I like it plain, with granola or with a few spoonfuls of jam stirred in. I also like to cook with it (example: this quick bread recipe). I’m loving The Yogurt Bible because it has opened up a wider world of yogurt appreciation than I ever knew possible. Mmm, yogurt.

Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook

I have a well-documented weakness for community cookbooks and have at least 25 in my apartment (a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to adopt a number from a collection that had belonged to the mother of a friend of a friend). However, The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook is really a whole different animal from those simple spiral-bound community collections. It’s an expertly curated assortment of classic southern recipes and I love it.

Mixt

I love salads nearly as much as I love soups. In fact, just this evening, we had a chopped salad of crunchy veg, grilled chicken and garbanzo beans, bound together with a pesto-mayonnaise dressing. It was a new salad for me and came to be because I’ve had my copy of Mixt Salads out on the dining room table for the last week, radiating fresh ideas. This is wonderfully helpful since I often find myself treading the same well-traveled path between butter lettuce, arguula and baby spinach. It’s nice to eat something new.

Gifts Cooks Love

As you may have figured out, I’m a sucker for edible gifts. Gifts Cooks Love takes my simple canning and baking and reminds me that it can be elevated it into something special. I realize it doesn’t do you a whole lot of good for this holiday season, but this is the kind of volume that will become a classic that you’ll turn to year after year.

Yikes, writing this post has been something of a marathon. I hope you made it this far! If you did, you’re in luck. I have copies of two of the books on this list to give away. Leave a comment sharing your favorite cookbook to give as a gift by Thursday, December 23 at 11:59 p.m. to enter for a chance to win a copy of either The Yogurt Bible or Gifts Cook Love.

Dark Days: Local Omelet and Toast

dark days week 3

This gorgeous plate you see is all thanks to Scott. While I’m typically the one who handles the cooking in our home (essentially, I’m just more interested than he is), he has a few specialties, including boiled corned beef with cabbage and potatoes, turkey burgers and eggplant parmesan. He is also deeply knowledgeable in the ways of the omelet.

This particular three-egg omelet contained onions and red peppers from the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market (that red pepper has been in the crisper for at last three or four weeks and was on its very last legs) and eggs from the Farm to City Winter Harvest program (if you live in the Philadelphia area, Winter Harvest is a fantastic way to keep the local food flowing even in these dark days). The cheese was a hunk of Tillamook white cheddar that we hand carried back from Oregon in October.

The toast started out life as a multi-grain boule from Metropolitan Bakery. Spread with the last of the butter from our Greensgrown CSA and a dab of my apricot jam, it was a lovely breakfast indeed.

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Open Jars: Turn Your Jam Into BBQ Sauce

Way back when I first introduced this Open Jars series, Susan wrote in to say that she had a post that might fit the bill. You see, she’s invented a handy formula that easily transforms just about any variety of jam into a tasty barbecue sauce.

Though it took me a little while to reply to her email (I’m notoriously bad about responding punctually), I’m delighted she got in touch to share her recipe and I’m even happier to tell all of you about it. Here’s what she has to say.

I have discovered that I can make a delicious and varied BBQ sauce by combining the following:

1 cup jam
1/2 cup chili sauce
1 tbsp. dried chopped onion
1 tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce

For the chicken you see above, I used my lemon, pineapple and rosemary marmalade as the base. I’ve used this same sauce on thick pork chops or country style pork ribs in the crock pot, but with my plum and pineapple jam. You can make any combination of meat and jam you like. Do season the meat well with salt and pepper. Add garlic powder too, if you like.

I baked this whole, cut up, chicken in a 9 x 13 pan in a 350 degree oven for about 50 minutes. I love serving this chicken with fragrant brown Basmati rice. I think the jammed crock pot pork tastes great with mashed sweet potatoes. The sauce combines with the meat juices to make a tasty gravy.

Until we share a table again – Jam! It’s not just for toast anymore!

I’d love to hear from more of you with ideas for how to use up your home canned goodness.

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