Friday, November 29, 2013

Berry Nice Banana Bread

I do a lot of shopping before Thanksgiving and sometimes I just don't get to make everything I have planned. This year I knew I was not going to get to the big fruit salad and decided to nip the guilt of "wasting food" right in the bud. I had 3 super ripe bananas sitting on the counter, not to mention the abundance of cranberries in my fridge and decided to make a breakfast bread that my friend Carol posted on Just a Pinch. It's super simple and a great way to get a little nutrition into your body before you start cooking your Thanksgiving feast. Here we go, it's a quick bread and I know you'll be quick to make this recipe.

Cranberry Banana Bread
makes one loaf in a medium to large loaf pan

1 cup Splenda no calorie sweetener (of course you can use regular sugar)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter softened to room temp
3 very ripe bananas mashed
2 large eggs beaten
1 tsp baking soda
2 c AP flour
1/2 c walnuts finely chopped
1 cup cranberries roughly chopped

Pre heat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare loaf pan with cooking spray.

In medium size bowl mix flour, salt and baking soda. I use a whisk for this but Carol sifts her dry ingredients. I'm a bit lazy, and it didn't seem to matter. Set aside for the time being.

In large bowl cream your Splenda and butter with hand mixer for about 3 minutes. When it looks nice and smooth, add your eggs and bananas and combine.

This is when the mixture stops looking smooth and attractive. It takes on an aura of being curdled. Forge on because it will redeem itself. Add the dry mixture into the curdled mixture and stir with a large wooden spoon. From what I know about making quick breads, the less you fuss with it, the better the results. So you've mixed the batter and it's still not looking great? Me too. Grab that hand mixer and finish the job, that's what I did. Four or five whirls around the bowl and you've got a nice batter. Time to add the cranberries and walnuts.

Use your wooden spoon again and and combine all ingredients. Pour into your loaf pan and bake 55 minutes to one hour. You can tell when it's done because the aroma in your kitchen is calling you. Remove from oven.

Place on wire cooling rack for about 20 minutes or a half hour. Remove from pan and let cool completely.

It was so late when I baked this, that I waited until morning to dig in. But dig in I did, to this energy and flavor boost all at once.

You know I treated myself to nice little shmear of cream cheese on top of this yummy pre-Thanksgiving snack/breakfast. I promise, you will be berry happy with this one! Don't forget the cream cheese and since we're celebrating, how about a spoonful of honey too?  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fein Meatballs in a very Fein Barbecue Sauce


Lori is coming for Thanksgiving and I am thrilled. This is the first time in maybe 7 or 8 years that I haven't spent this holiday with her in California. I love the trip out west, love the weather, her friends and the get togethers we always plan. But it sure is nice to just to be home and relax and have company for a change. Lori eats a bit like I do. Salads, nibbles, cheese and crackers and I thought before we dug into the big Thanksgiving meal I'd make a few treats for us to enjoy with a few glasses of wine while we either watch some silly tv or get down to a few serious games of scrabble. Myia and Evan, we will be missing you when it comes to the scrabble. So tonight I decided to create a perfect hors d'oerves that can be reheated with no problem and figured I'd serve it at some point early in the week.

I met a lovely man at the WFC named Adam Feinberg who was cooking there and also sells his own BBQ spice rubs and this mench was nice enough to give me a packet of his original BBQ rub. Living in a small condo, almost like an apartment I don't do much grilling. But I stuck my finger in his rub and tasted it. Yowwwsa. It was yummy. So I decided I'd make a sweet and sour barbecue sauce with his rub. Adam, all I can say is the blend of spices is perfect. This is my first recipe using your Fein Tasting Foods.

Here's my recipe for Sweet and Sour Barbecue Infused Meatballs. They are much better than fine (or fein), they are awesome!

Chicken Meatballs with BBQ Sauce
makes sixteen meatballs

To make the meatballs:
1 pound of ground chicken
1-1/2 tsp Feiny's Original BBQ Rub
1 large egg
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 cup water (you can use milk if your like)
1 T red pepper flakes
1 T dried minced onions
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

To make the sauce:
2 lemons juiced
1/2 tsp vinegar
2 T Splenda Brown Sugar Blend
3 T Feiny's Original BBQ Rub
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
pinch of salt
1 15 oz can of water

Ready to put this together? It's so simple.  Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. In medium size bowl combine egg, bread crumbs, water, crushed red pepper flakes, minced onions, salt and pepper. I mix everything together except the meat to make sure the meat gets as little mixing action as possible. I like my meatballs tender.

Now add your ground chicken and combine. I use my clean hands. Form 16 meatballs and place on baking sheet prepared with cooking spray. Hint: ground chicken can be very sticky, so I wet my hands every so often to make sure my meatballs are smooth and round.

You'll want to bake them for 25 minutes. While the meatballs are cooking prepare your sauce. In medium to large pot on stove top, combine lemon juice, vinegar, Splenda Brown Sugar Blend, Feiny's BBQ Rub, tomato sauce, salt and water. Bring to a simmer. By the time this decadent sauce is coming to a boil, your meatball are ready to go into their quick BBQ spa.

Cook the meatballs in the sweet and sour tomato bath for about 10 minutes, only to let them soak up some of the flavors the Fein mixture is exuding. Remove the meatballs to a separate plate and
reduce sauce to about half (10 to 15 minutes). Plate and enjoy.

 And enjoy some more.

They're going fast . I've now snuck a third meatball (shush) just to make sure they're as delicious as I think they are. Third one down the hatch. They are goooood.  Thanks Adam, I hope to be creating more easy recipes from your hard work. Adam's website is:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

World Food Championships 2013, Part 3

The night before I was leaving for the WFC, packing clothes, emptying out my kitchen, getting my ingredients in order, and stressing to the max, I got an email from Lori- my sous chef extraordinaire and fabulous daughter (living 3,000 miles away from me) who reminded me she had some suprises in store. I usually don't worry about Lori because she is very down to earth. But her email included this picture.One is me and of one is her. And this was going to be part of our banner for the competitor's parade and the competition booth. I love the way she thinks. Just seeing her email made me giddy and I couldn't wait to see what she was planning, I was game for anything. Just to fill you in, this is a picture of each of us, one taken in 1959 and one in 1986. Yes, we were about the same age posing as Miss America. Well, when you're in a cooking competition as stressfull as the WFC, it sure is like a beauty contest except the best food wins. And when your favorite Miss America is cooking with you, it's home cooking at its' best!
On to the event: The two former pretend beauty queens got down to cooking Thursday afternoon and made Raspberry Cloud Cakes, our signature dish. To me it's everything that a dessert should be- creamy, rich, white chocolatey and fruity. This is one of my favorite recipes that I created over a year ago and just prior to the competition, I made them once a week for about 4-6 weeks. I made them in my sleep too. Here's the recipe, I think you'll enjoy.
White Chocolate Raspberry Cloud Cakes
makes about 36 filled cakes
8 oz neufchatel cheese softened to room temp
1/2 cup butter softened
3 T confectioner's sugar
1 T Splenda Brown Sugar Blend for Baking
1/3 cup Polaner All Fruit Raspberry Preserves
3/4 cup butter softened
3/4 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend
2 large eggs room temp
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups AP flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup white chocolate chips finely chopped
Confectioners sugar for dusting
Fresh raspberries
mint leaves
Let's put this beautiful dessert together.
To make the filling: In medium size bowl combine all ingredients with hand mixer. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare and make the dough.
To make the (dough): Pre heat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. In medium size bowl combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir with a whisk to combine and set aside.
In large bowl, with hand or stand mixer combine butter and brown sugar and mix until smooth and airy (2-3 minutes). We used a hand mixer at the show. Add eggs and vanilla and continue to mix. Add half the dry ingredients into the wet and mix on low. Add the rest of the dry ingredients until dough is smooth. Now add the crushed white chocolate and stir to combine. Use your clean hands if it's easier. The white chocolate is a fabulous addition to these little darlings. Who doesn't like a little white chocolate crunch with a cakey cookie?

Your dough will be very sticky so you'll want to refrigerate it for about 15-20 minutes. Up tp 30-40 minutes if you have the time. Form dough into small balls about 3/4 inch in diameter. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes and place on cooling rack to cool. After a few minutes you can place them on paper or kitchen towels to cool completely.

When mini cakes are cooled, the fun begins. Take a tablespoon of prepared raspberry cream and place on top of flat side of cake.

We're getting there. Now cover the filling with a second cookie cake to make a sandwich.

Keep going, you've got a lot more to make. When you cake sammies are assembled, sprinkle both sides of the cake with confectioner's sugar through a sieve. Add a dollop of the leftover raspberry cream to the top of these and garnish with a raspberry. Here is a picture that I took in my house before the contest. I was thrilled to be able to make these for the judges, with red wrappers, white plates and a sprinkling here and there of fresh mint (sorry no picture at the competition).

For those of you that want to give these a try, I have to warn you, they are growing raspberries bigger than you can imagine. Each garnish ended up being 1/3 of a raspberry. I cut the tops off, blotted them with paper towels to prevent bleeding and added them to the top raspberry swirl. Wish I had a picture of my final-hand in dish, but time was wasting and we were lucky to get these little cuties in on time.
And in case you were wondering, here is one of the two surprise signs Lori made. From what I could tell, we had the best "home cook" signs in the competition.
So the cook off is over and it's been over a week since I've been home. Will we do it next year? I'd like to think so and just hope we're invited back. To be able to do this for 2 years in a row and compete in a fierce competition like the WFC, I think our third time might be the charm. Fingers crossed!  

Monday, November 18, 2013

World Food Championships 2013, Part 2

The above picture was taken after round one of the dessert competition. I really don't look too frazzled do I? Just happy to have completed my two recipes on time, and in the dark no less. So are you ready for recipe#2? It's a dark mocha truffle cookie (very sultry and not too sweet), and they will make a nice addition to your Thanksgiving or Christmas dessert buffet. Perfect timing I think.

Dark Mocha Truffle Cookies
makes about 32

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperatue
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tsp instant coffee powder
1/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa (the dark cocoa really makes a difference)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1-3/4 cups AP flour
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
Confectioner's sugar for dusting
Ground instant coffee for dusting

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl mix butter and sugar until well blended. Add vanilla, coffee, cocoa and salt and mix well.

Add flour and mix until dough is looking crumbly. Add the walnuts and incorporate.

I use my clean hands to mix the nuts and batter. A little messy I admit, but that's what I do. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate 15 to 20 minutes.

You can certainly refrigerate the dough longer, we were just under the gun, and I figured out before the competition that 15 minutes was the least amount of time the dough could be refrigerated and still make perfect little truffles. Working with half the dough, roll into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Place balls on parchment lined baking sheets and bake 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack for about 5 minutes (ten if you're not in a cooking competition) and toss warm cookies in confectioner's sugar. Set cookies aside to cool and top with sieved ground coffee. Repeat with remainder of dough. Serve in mini cupcake liners. I was lucky enough to find some brown liners (no picture available, since we were scurrying around towards plating time and didn't even think of taking a photo) but they were very complimentary to the brown and white cookies.

I must give credit where credit is due...So a special thank you to Lori, my daughter and sous chef at the event who made these little darlings like a pro. And also, a big shout out to Diane Hopson Smith who tested this recipe for me and reassured me they were as good as I thought they were. Love you gals!

Friday, November 15, 2013

World Food Championships 2013, Part 1

This is a view of the Freemont Experience where the World Food Championships took place last week. It looks pretty tame in this picture but when the home cooks and bonafied chefs were competing, it was a hot-bed of excitement. And the aromas were heavenly. Each night when the awards were presented, I could barely get close enough to the stage to snap a picture. But I did get a good one, the Pasta Recipe top ten finals. Six of my buddies are up on the stage. You rock ladies! And you're all home cooks, how great is that?

Unfortunately I didn't make the top ten, but since I ranked 16 in desserts I'm feeling like "I almost made it". One of the most disappointing things about not making the top ten is that I didn't get to make my yummy Calypso Cakes with Pineapple Coconut Coulis. We had about two weeks to plan and think about our final build, and I must admit I spent a lot of time and energy coming up with this concoction. I decided to make individual cakes to cut down on cooking time (they really put us to the test when it came to delivering our dishes on time). Seventeen minutes in the oven, and a few extra steps to make them competition worthy. Here's the recipe. It has a lot of steps, but is really pretty simple. If you know me, you know I don't make anything that is difficult.

Calypso Cake with Coconut Pineapple Coulis
makes 12 2 inch servings in square, flat muffin tins

For the cake
1 cup Splenda no sugar sweetener
2 cups AP flour
2 large eggs
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 20 oz can Dole Crushed pineapple drained (save liquid for coulis)
1/2 cup ground sweetened coconut
1-1/4 cup Thai coconut milk from 13.5 oz can (reserve the rest for coulis)

For the frosting
8 oz neufchatel cheese room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter room temperature
1/4 cup ground sweetened coconut
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tsp coconut extract

For the coulis
Reserved sauce from can of crushed pineapple
Reserverd coconut milk
1 T cornstarch
3 T Splenda Brown Sugar Blend
1/4 tsp salt

1 cup sweetened coconut
1 can Dole Pineapple Slices drained and patted dry

To make the cake: Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare baking pan with cooking spray and set aside. In large bowl combine dry ingredients and whisk with a fork. Add remaining ingredients and mix by hand until combined. Pour into prepared pan and bake 17-19 minutes. Set aside to cool. Remove from baking pan to further cool.

To make the frosting: Mix cheese and butter until airy. Now add the ground coconut (I grind my coconut in my small spice grinder) and the coconut extract and combine until smooth. Now add your confectioner's sugar. Set aside in a cool place.

To make the sauce: In small pan combine Splenda Brown Sugar Blend and salt and heat on low. In a small mixing bowl whisk reserved pineapple juice, reserved coconut milk and cornstarch. Pour into warmed sugar mixture, increase heat, then simmer uncovered until it reduces by half. Set aside to cool.

Garnish: Place coconut on parchment lined cookie sheet and toast in 350 degree oven for about 5-7 minutes, checking and tossing every few minutes, you don't want burnt coconut.

Fire up your indoor grill and sear pineapple slices until they are browned on both sides. Remove from grill and when they are cooled, cut into 1/2 inch pieces.

Assembly: Top cakes with the creamy frosting. Pour a little sauce over frosted cake and make a little puddle of sauce on your plates. Place cake on top of sauce puddle, sprinkle top with toasted coconut and add a few slices of grilled pineapple. Doesn't this look yummy?

At the WFC we have to present tasting portions for the judges, and while I was thinking of how to plate this entry, Pier One Imports was having a promotion on their "tasting" wares. I opted for the Asian soup spoons (75 cents each-good deal right?). Love the way this looks.

As you can see, a lot of work went into this dessert that never got to be made at the WFC. But I will be making these little Calypso Cakes often and I hope you'll give them a try too. I know, a lot of steps- but sooo worth it. Congrats to all the competitors, we are surely a talented group of crazies.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Yes, I am fried. I just got back from the World Food Championships in Las Vegas where Lori and I competed in the dessert category. We didn't make the top ten, but made what I'd call a pretty good score (details to come later). I will be posting my WFC desserts in another post, but here I am tonight still on Pacific time and just had to share last nights' culinary experiment- Fried Green Tomatoes. I've been wanting to make these for years, but up north you can't find green maters in the market. So you have to befriend a gardener, which I did. Thanks Deb for sharing some of your crop with me. This is a super simple recipe adapted from one of the best southern cooks I know- Diane Smith. Thank you Diane, it seems that every recipe of yours is a winner.

Fried Green Tomatoes

4 medium green tomatoes sliced 1/4 inch
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1-1/2 cups low fat buttermilk
1 cup AP flour
1/2 cup fine yellow corn meal
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp (or more) Old Bay Seasoning
1/4 tsp black pepper
Canola oil for frying

Slice tomatoes and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Place them in a colander for about 30 minutes to let the juices run out. While this is happening, prepare your flour/breading mixture. Combine flour, Old Bay, baking powder, corn meal, salt and black pepper. Whisk until incorporated.

When tomatoes are relieved of most of their liquid, pat them dry with paper towels and give them a bath in the buttermilk. Now dredge them a few times in the flour mixture. Coat those babies well. Heat oil in a large skillet on medium high and get ready to fry. As Diane says, "do not crowd the pan". Cook in small batches- which I did.

Cook a few minutes on each side. Remove to paper towels to drain some of the oil. Serve as a side dish with anything you are making for dinner. Then wrap up the leftovers and take them to work with you the next day as a snack. And if you're a dipper like me, whip up a concoction of sour cream, mayo and horseradish. You won't be disappointed.  Just hoping I don't have to wait until next year's harvest to enjoy fried green tomatoes again. They were sooo good!