Monday, October 29, 2012

Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

I always end up with overripe bananas on my countertops.  Bananas are so cheap and so good, but the moment they start getting brown spots, I'm no longer interested in eating them raw.  They quickly go from perfectly ripe to overripe and my kitchen is taken over by the aroma of too-sweet overripe bananas.  Normally I either place the whole, peeled bananas in the freezer for a future batch of banana bread or I just make a loaf of banana bread right then and there.

As much as I love my banana bread recipe, I wanted to mix it up a bit.  I saw The Barefoot Contessa feature this banana cake on her show, so I gave the recipe a try.  It worked out pretty well, but I did make some adjustments to the icing.  I also had a problem with the center of my cake sinking, but it was still baked through and tasted great.

As much as I love cake, I'm not a huge fan of icing, which is why I shy away from elaborate layered cakes with mountains of sugary topping.  This cake was really easy to assemble and I liked the tangy sweetness of the cream cheese icing.

Oh, and the leftovers were great with coffee at breakfast the next morning.  Banana cake... banana bread... not much difference!

Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted (slightly) from The Barefoot Contessa

3 very ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
Walnut halves, for decorating 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 by 2-inch round cake pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the bananas, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on low speed until combined. With the mixer still on low, add the oil, eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and orange zest. Mix until smooth.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Stir in the chopped walnuts, if using. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, turn out onto a cooling rack, and cool completely.

Spread the frosting thickly on the top of the cake and decorate with walnut halves.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (1/2 pound)

Make sure the butter and cream cheese are at room temperature and the powdered sugar is sifted before you start.  This will ensure a smooth frosting with no lumps.

Mix the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on low speed until just combined. Don't whip! Add the sugar and mix until smooth. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fresh Bruschetta + ShopRite Extra Virgin California Olive Oil

Please check out my latest post over on Potluck!  Bruschetta is one of my favorite uses for fresh tomatoes and basil.  If you live in the Mid-Atlantic region, ShopRite has a quality (and affordable) California Extra Virgin Olive Oil and it works well in this recipe.

Monday, October 22, 2012

New York's Finger Lakes... Fall Foliage Extraordinaire

In March 2011 my husband and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary on Seneca Lake near Watkins Glen, NY.  It was our first stay at the lovely Harbor Hotel and we loved every moment of our trip... including the 18 inches of snow that fell as soon as we arrived.  As much as I loved that trip, I realized that it would be better to visit the region when there was no snow on the ground, preferably during the peak of fall foliage.  I filed that idea away in my head and assumed that I'd always be too busy at work to take a long weekend to check out the foliage in New York.

Fast forward just 18 months and I'm on maternity leave.  I opted to take a quick 3-day trip back to the Finger Lakes and lucked out and caught this...

I couldn't believe our luck.  The leaves peaked early this year.  We left the unseasonably warm 80 degree temperatures in Delaware and five hours later were greeted by all of the fall colors of the Finger Lakes region of New York.  It was breathtaking.  Plus, the temperatures were in the 60s, so we were very comfortable.  I've never seen fall foliage like this.

We live in a flat area that is close to sea level.  While our trees do change color (typically mid-October to early November) we don't have the mountains or the beautiful reflection of the lake to really set things off.  The colors we saw on Seneca Lake and Keuka Lake were nothing short of amazing.

Photos just don't do it justice.  Right before I took the photo above, we drove over a hill and as far as the eye could see were rolling hills that looked like they were painted with fall colors, plus you could see Keuka Lake in the background.  It was unreal.  It was difficult to pay attention to the road.  I wish I had a wide-angle lens.  I pulled over on a random farm road to get this photo.

Our hotel was on Seneca Lake and the view was impressive.  We even enjoyed dinner on the hotel patio with this view...

The only thing I regret is that my husband wasn't able to join us.  My mom and Max came on this trip and we had a fantastic time.  It was the baby's first road trip and he did very well considering that he was just eight weeks old.  Yes, he did cry almost every time we sat down for a restaurant meal.  Yes, he did have several outfit changes as a result of him... um... "soiling" his clothing.  He also didn't sleep as well in the hotel as he does at home.  We all survived, though, and I'm really happy that we took this trip.  I'm also grateful that my mom was there to help me with the baby.

It goes without saying that we bought a lot of wine.  I don't know when I'll have a chance to head back up to the Finger Lakes and they have some very unique wines (I prefer their whites over their reds, but to each his or her own).  We ended up with a whopping 12 cases of wine...

I'm sure it will take us a couple of years to enjoy (and gift) all of that wine.  It wasn't all for us, I promise.

If you're considering visiting the Finger Lakes Region, here are some things I've learned (and I hope they'll make your trip easier):

1.  There doesn't seem to be a lot of travel planning information available about this region.  However, it seems that each lake has its own website with a list of restaurants, wineries and other attractions.  I've visited these three lakes and I've found these sites to be helpful:  Seneca Lake, Keuka Lake, Cayuga Lake.
2.  There aren't a lot of full-service hotels convenient to the wine trail or the lakes.  There are plenty of bed and breakfasts, if that's your thing.  If you're looking for a larger hotel with services (pool, restaurant, bar, room service), I highly recommend the Harbor Hotel in Watkins Glen.  It's right at the base of Seneca Lake and just 30 minutes from Cayuga Lake or Keuka Lake.
3.  The Finger Lakes region is known for wine, particularly Riesling.  There are also fantastic parks and hiking trails.  If you don't like wine (and cheese), you may not enjoy the trip as much as I did.
4.  On the topic of wine, pace yourself.  The roads are hilly and winding.  Make good use of the dump buckets, take your time and consider having a designated driver.
5.  While I brought my baby on this trip, I would not bring him once he gets older (walking and talking).  There's not much for children to do on the wine trail and I feel that it's unfair to the child and to the other patrons to bring an active little one into a winery.
6.  This whole region is full of small towns.  Don't expect to see a Starbucks, a movie theatre, or a chain restaurant.  Go with the flow and ask the locals where they like to eat.

Have you done any road trips recently?  I have two more road trip stories to share... I'm really getting around with this baby!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Roasted Tomato Sauce

I know I just said I wouldn't tease you with summer recipes in the fall, but I just had to share this one.  Yes, it uses fresh tomatoes and basil from my garden (which has been cut down for a few weeks now), but you can still buy fresh tomatoes at roadside stands in the Mid-Atlantic through October and you can always find plum tomatoes at the grocery store.  Nothing beats fresh basil and although it may cost a few bucks to buy, it's worth the purchase.

This recipe uses a similar method to the Roasted Tomato Salsa that I posted this summer.  I loved the simplicity of that technique so much that I opted to try it for a marinara-type sauce.  I'm so happy with the result and it's really simple.

You start with a couple pounds of fresh tomatoes, some garlic and an onion.  Roast them in your oven until the edges are starting to char...

Dump the roasted vegetables in the bowl of your food processor (or a large blender) along with basil, salt, and olive oil.  You may decide to add just a dash of sugar.

I know that looks like a lot of salt, but these tomatoes are fresh and the salt really brings out the flavor.

Give the veggies a whirl...

That's it!  Now you have roasted tomato sauce that you can use to top a pizza, as a dip for mozzarella sticks or pepperoni bread or in your favorite spaghetti or lasagna recipe.

I used it with ground turkey and hot Italian sausage to make spaghetti sauce.

No seeding, peeling or boiling tomatoes and no dicing onions or mincing garlic.  It's fresh and it's easy.  It's also versatile and it's a great alternative to jarred sauces.

I was able to roast the vegetables one day (or early in the morning), refrigerate them, and then blend the sauce at dinnertime.  This comes in handy when you're dealing with the demands of a newborn or any other everyday chaos.

I'm always looking for ways to use up produce that's about to be past its prime and roasting is a fantastic option for extending the life of your fresh veggies.

Roasted Tomato Sauce
a Keeley original

1 1/2-2 pounds of tomatoes, halved with stem removed (your favorite variety)
1 medium onion, quartered
4 cloves of garlic
a handful of fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon Kosher salt (I use Diamond Brand, use more or less salt to taste)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cover a baking sheet with foil (spray with cooking spray if you use this option) or parchment paper (no spray needed).  Spread tomatoes, onion, and garlic in a single layer on baking sheet.

Roast until edges of vegetables are beginning to char (35+ minutes).  Remove vegetables from oven and place them in the bowl of a food processor or blender.

Add basil, salt, sugar, and olive oil to food processor.  Process or pulse until sauce reaches desired consistency (chunky or smooth, whatever you like).  Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

Use in your favorite pizza, lasagna or spaghetti recipe or as a dip for your Italian-style appetizers.  Refrigerate leftovers for up to three days.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Refried Black Beans

I've been having computer problems.  I've had tons of issues with photo storage and retrieval, including some scary moments when I worried that I lost my photos and videos of Max.  Yikes!  Speaking of Max, he's 10 weeks old now.  He's awake all day, seldom takes naps, and he's starting to smile at us.  He's also just over 8 pounds... finally putting on some weight.  He's keeping me very, very busy, hence the lack of regular posts.

Despite the fact that I haven't been posting for a few weeks, I've been cooking tons of stuff.  Unfortunately many of my recipes were summer seasonal and I figured it would be cruel to share recipes with fresh basil and tomatoes in October, so I decided to share a recipe that my not look very pretty, but tastes great and is an excellent side with your Tex-Mex dishes:  Refried Black Beans.

I was watching The Pioneer Woman on Food Network and she did a show where she made a Mexican menu.  I made every recipe from that episode, but I ended up altering her refried black beans recipe to make it quick and easy.  Here's what I did...

I dumped two cans of black beans into a saucepan.  I didn't drain them, I didn't rinse them... I just dumped 'em in.  I also threw in some diced onion, cumin, minced garlic and pepper.

I cooked the mixture over medium heat for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, I heated a little bacon fat in a skillet.  Yes, I keep bacon fat in the refrigerator.  I don't use it everyday, but it's worth the extra fat and calories for some recipes.  It really adds a nice smoky flavor to these beans.  If you don't keep bacon fat in your fridge, you can always cook a few slices of bacon and use the rendered fat.  I'm sure you can find a use for fresh, hot bacon.  :)

And yes, you could use Crisco, vegetable oil or some other fat instead... it just won't be the same, but if you want to keep this dish vegetarian, that's a great option.

After the bacon fat melts, dump the bean mixture into the skillet.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently for a few minutes.

Then, mash the beans to your desired consistency.  I used a potato masher...

Serve the beans hot with grilled chicken and rice or on a burrito or as a taco filling.  The possibilities are endless.  I reheated the leftovers and used them as a dip for tortilla chips.

I prefer these beans over the typical refried (pinto) beans served in Mexican restaurants.  These have more flavor and they are cheap and easy to make.  I also like that you can leave some beans whole... not everyone likes their beans completely mashed.

I know refried beans aren't photogenic, but they are (generally) healthy and also really tasty!  This is a great recipe to keep in your repertoire for when you have enchiladas or carnitas for dinner.  Also, think about topping these beans with cheddar and a little fresh salsa and serving them as a hot dip with tortilla chips.

Refried Black Beans
based on The Pioneer Woman's Recipe

2 cans of black beans
1/2 cup diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons bacon fat (you can also use vegetable shortening or oil)

Combine beans (entire contents of can, do not drain) onion, garlic and cumin in a saucepan.  Add pepper to taste.  (I do not add salt as canned beans are notoriously salted.)

Heat bean mixture over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a separate saucepan (wide, flat pan or skillet) heat bacon fat.  Pour hot beans onto pan and cook for 3 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning.

Reduce heat and mash beans to desired consistency using a potato masher.  Check seasonings and adjust, if necessary.  Serve hot.
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