Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Upside-down Banana Chocolate Chip Cake


This is my new, absolute favourite banana cake! It was my parent's 24th wedding anniversary two days ago, so I made this cake for them to enjoy since they are both lovers of any baked goods involving bananas. It barely lasted 24 hours in my house. Words cannot describe how good it is and the pictures don't do it justice! It is so moist, full of banana flavour, and perfectly sweet enough to be enjoyed for dessert, afternoon coffee/tea, or even breakfast (shh I won't tell). Mashed bananas are featured in the cake itself, alongside their good friends chocolate and cinnamon, and then again as pretty, deliciously caramelized slices on top of the cake. I want to put that caramelized banana topping on everything. I really hope you're like me and have a stash of black bananas in your freezer at all times, plus a bunch fresh ripe ones on the counter - because there is no such thing as too many bananas - so that you can run to your kitchen and make it right now!

Ingredients:

1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp. water
3-4 medium, ripe bananas
a few drops of lemon juice

1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup white sugar
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed banana (about 2 very ripe bananas)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Directions:

To make the topping, combine the brown sugar and water in a small saucepan and simmer on the stovetop for about 1 minute over low heat, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and pour the mixture into an 8" square cake pan so that it evenly coats the bottom. 

Peel and slice the bananas into 1/4" slices and arrange them in slightly overlapping rows on top of the melted brown sugar. Lightly sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent too much browning while you prepare the cake batter.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a separate, medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, eggs, mashed banana, sour cream, and vanilla.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips. Be careful not to over mix!

Scrape the cake batter over the sliced bananas and use a rubber spatula to gently spread it evenly over the slices. Bake for about 38-40 minutes, or until the cake is golden and the top gently springs back when pressed.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20-30 minutes, then run a knife along the edges to loosen the cake from the pan. Carefully invert the cake onto a serving platter or cake plate. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.


*Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cashew and Snow Pea Stir-fry with Sesame Marinated Tofu


This stir-fry is fast and foolproof, and way better than any takeout! If you are skeptical about cooking tofu then this may be the recipe to change your mind. After marinating in a flavourful sesame sauce all day and a quick saute with some stir-fry veggies, you will forget you ever thought it was bland and spongy! For those of you that are sitting there rolling your eyes at me - just make it with chicken instead, or double up on the mushrooms and cashews. This stir-fry is excellent hot or cold, with rice, noodles, or just as is.

Sesame Tofu Marinade Ingredients:

1/4 cup soy sauce or Bragg's Liquid Aminos
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
 2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small knob of ginger, minced to yield about 1 Tbsp.
2-3 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. Sriracha - Add more or less depending on your spice level preference
1 block firm or extra firm tofu

Directions:

Remove the tofu from the packaging and drain it of excess liquid. I do this by placing it in on a large plate or shallow bowl, then placing another plate on top of the tofu and putting a heavy bowl or jar/can on the plate to weigh it down. I leave it to drain all day or for at least 2 hours, occasionally pouring off the liquid that collects on the plate. This is an important step because it ensures that the tofu will soak up as much of the marinade as possible and become saturated with flavour. After draining, pat the tofu dry of any remaining moisture with paper towel or a clean, dry dish towel. 

Slice the tofu lengthwise into strips, then halve the strips, keeping them a bit thin so that they can absorb more of the marinade. In a shallow dish or plastic container, whisk together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, and Sriracha. Place the tofu in the dish and evenly cover with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6-8 hours, or overnight.

Cashew, Snow Pea, and Bell Pepper Stir-fry Ingredients:

1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 cup snow peas, halved diagonally
5-7 Cremini mushrooms, quartered
1/3 cup roasted cashews
2 tsp. cornstarch - This will thicken the reserved tofu marinade to create a sauce
Rice or noodles, to serve (optional)

Directions:

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Remove the tofu from the marinade and arrange the slices evenly on the hot pan. Saute for about 3-4 minutes, until the slices begin to brown on one side, then flip and saute for another 3-4 minutes. 

Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch into the leftover marinade. 

Add the vegetables and cashews to the frying pan and cook until the vegetables are almost tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Pour the reserved marinade into the pan and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for an additional 1-2 minutes just to warm the sauce. Transfer to a serving dish and serve immediately.


*Recipe by Brooke McMillan

Friday, May 17, 2013

Raspberry-Lemon Pistachio Cake with Whipped Cream


I made this cake for my dad's birthday celebration last month. My dad adores chocolate and peanut butter (who doesn't, really?) so for the past few years I've gone with that classic combination for his birthday cakes and almost any dessert I've baked for him. This year I wanted to try something different, so I combined some of his other favourite foods - raspberries and pistachios - and came up with this three-layered, fluffy vanilla cake. For good measure, I sandwiched a homemade lemon curd between the layers along with some crushed, fresh raspberries, because citrus and berries are almost as classic as chocolate and peanut butter. I opted to cover the whole cake in lightly sweetened whipping cream rather than a heavy and sugary buttercream so that the bright flavours of the raspberries and lemon would come through. It was a light and fresh change of pace from the rich chocolate-peanut butter cakes of years past and would be the perfect cake for any spring or summer party. My dad's only critique was to add more raspberries and pistachios, so feel free to go crazy with the garnishes! 

Vanilla Cake Ingredients:

2 and 1/2 cups cake flour, plus extra for dusting the pans
1 and 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. table salt
1 and 3/4 cups white sugar
10 Tbsp. butter (1 and 1/4 sticks), melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
3 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks, room temperature
3 large egg whites, room temperature

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and move the rack to the centre of the oven. Line the bottom of 3 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper, then grease the paper and the sides of the pans with butter and then dust with flour, tapping out the excess.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1 and 1/2 cup of white sugar.

In a separate, medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, buttermilk, canola oil, vanilla, and egg yolks.

In a separate medium bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at medium speed until foamy. With the mixer running, slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup of white sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form, about 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Add the flour mixture to the mixer bowl and with the mixer on low speed, gradually add in the butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then continue to mix on medium-low speed until the batter is smooth.

Using a rubber spatula, stir 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter to lighten, then add the remaining egg whites into the batter and very gently fold them in until no white streaks remain. 

Divide the batter evenly among the three prepared cake pans. Lightly tap the cake pans against the counter 2-3 times to remove any big air pockets in the batter. Bake until the cake layers begin to pull away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick inserted in to the centre comes out clean, about 18-22 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then lightly grease the wire rack, run a butter knife around the edges of the cakes and invert them onto the wire rack. Peel off the parchment paper from the bottoms of the layers and allow them to cool completely before assembling the cake.

*Cake recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated


Lemon Curd:
This is a delicious, basic lemon curd recipe. It will make more than you need for between the cake layers, but it is handy to have on hand for pairing with fresh fruits or light pastries for a quick dessert!

1 and 1/4 cups white sugar
6 Tbsp. corn starch
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups water
4 egg yolks, beaten
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
1/2 cup lemon juice
3 Tbsp. butter

In a small bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks. In a heavy saucepan, mix the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir in the water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat, and whisk 1/4 of the mixture into the egg yolks, then whisk them back into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon zest, juice, and butter. Cover and set aside to cool before using. Store leftover curd in an airtight container in the refrigerator and stir before using. The curd will thicken as it cools.


Whipping Cream:

1 cup whipping cream, cold
2 Tbsp. white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Place the whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla in a chilled mixing bowl and whip with chilled beaters or a whisk until stiff peaks form. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to frost the cake, or use immediately. Store leftovers in an airtight container the refrigerator.

To assemble the cake:

2-3 cups fresh raspberries
1/2-1 cup pistachios, roughly chopped

In a small bowl, smash 1 cup of fresh raspberries. You can add a little bit of sugar to sweeten them if desired. Another option here would be to use raspberry jam or preserves if fresh raspberries are not available.

Level the three cake layers using a serrated knife. Place the bottom layer, cut side up onto the serving plate. Evenly spread half of the smashed raspberry mixture on top of the cake. Cover with a thick layer of lemon curd, leaving a 1/2-1" gap around the outside of the cake with no filling. The filling will be squeezed outward once you place the next layer on top so this prevents it from oozing out the sides. Place the second cake layer cut side down onto the first layer. Repeat the raspberry and lemon curd filling, then place the final cake layer cut side down onto the second layer. 

Wipe away any lemon curd or raspberries that have oozed out the sides of the cake layers. Cover the cake with the whipped cream and use a thin metal spatula or butter knife to create a swirl pattern. Garnish with chopped pistachios and additional fresh, whole raspberries. You could garnish just on the top of the cake, as pictured, or cover the entire cake if you want more pistachios and fresh raspberries in each slice.

Store the cake in a cake dome or covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator. This cake is best eaten the same day it is made but will keep well for up to 2 days.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Granola Bars


I have a bit of an issue with many granola bars or healthy snack bars you find on store shelves these days. Most of them are marketed as being wholesome and nutritious, when really they are just a chocolate bar with an identity crisis. Recently, my dad and I went through the ingredients list of his beloved Fiber One bars and had a much easier time finding multiple forms of sugar and preservatives on the list than any fiber! Now, I'm not trying to get on my healthy hippie soap box here, because I enjoy a chocolate bar myself pretty frequently (my freezer always has a stash of assorted chocolate bars in it), but I think if you're going to make the effort to buy a bar for healthy snacking then the ingredients should be nutritious and full of things you can pronounce.

My solution to all of this is to just make my own granola bars so I know exactly what is going into them and so that I can customize them to include my favourite ingredients! Yes, my granola bars still have sugar, but I don't mind at all since they are packed with other healthy ingredients that make them the perfect combination of sweet, chewy, and crunchy, while giving me lasting energy. They are so much better than anything I have found at the store, and they couldn't be easier to make at home. I encourage you to take an hour, make a couple pans of these, and stash them in the freezer so you can grab a bar at your convenience. They make a great quick breakfast or coffee break snack, and I'm sure kids would love to find one packed in their lunch bags.

Ingredients:

1 and 2/3 cups quick oats
1/2 cup white or brown sugar
1/3 cup oat flour - If you don’t have oat flour just grind 1/3 cup of oats in a food processor or blender until it is a fine powder. You may be able to substitute whole wheat flour but I haven't tried it.
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 and 1/2 cups dried fruits and nuts - For my bars I used about 1 cup dried cranberries, 1/2 cup chopped almonds, 1/2 cup sunflower seeds, and 1/2 cup chia seeds. You could also try using: raisins, dried apricots, dried cherries, dried apples, dates, pecans, walnuts, coconut, sesame seeds, flax seeds, or chocolate chips. You can chop your fruits and nuts coarsely with a knife or food processor, or leave them as is if you want a chunkier bar.
1/3 cup peanut butter or another nut butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
6 Tbsp. olive or canola oil
1/3 cup honey
1 Tbsp. water

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8"x 8" or 9"x 9" baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides to use as handles to lift the bars from the pan. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan with butter or a non-stick cooking spray.

Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a small saucepan, heat the peanut butter, oil, honey, and water over medium-low heat until smooth, stirring constantly. Stir in the vanilla extract and then pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened.

Spread the granola bar mixture into the prepared pan, packing it in firmly using your hands or the bottom of a glass or measuring cup. Ensure the bars are tightly molded to the shape of the pan.

Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they are golden brown around the edges. They may still seem soft and almost underbaked when you press into the center of the pan but they will set completely as they cool

Completely cool the bars in the baking pan on a wire rack. Once cool, cut the bars into squares or rectangles using a sharp knife. If bars seem crumbly, chill the pan in the fridge for 30 minutes, then take them out and cut while they are still cold. To store, wrap the bars individually in plastic or stack them in an airtight container. These bars freeze well for longer storage.

 


*Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen