Saturday, April 30, 2011

Banana Oat Breakfast Cakes

Over the years, breakfast has become one of my favorite meals to "play around with" and create yummy, fun recipes. Especially on the weekends if/when I have a little extra time, I enjoy spending more time in the kitchen to try a new recipe or create a slightly more elaborate breakfast than I typically have time for on the weekdays. A couple weekends ago I tried a recipe for "banana oat cakes" that I had bookmarked from a great blog I recently discovered, "Running Around Normal."

Here's the recipe for you. Note that it only makes enough for two cakes, so you'll need to double or triple this if you're making it for more than one or two people!

-2/3 cup regular oats
-1 egg
-2 - 4 Tbsp. water or milk (I used skim milk)
-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
-1 banana, sliced
-almond butter or yogurt, for toppings

Simple ingredient list! :)

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. In a small bowl, mix together the oats, egg, milk or water, and cinnamon; set aside. Add the sliced banana to your skillet to grill it to bring out its natural sugars, about 3 minutes per side. After letting the oat cake mixture sit for about a minute, form it into two "patties" and place them in your pan, grilling for about 3 minutes per side and until they're very lightly browned on the outside. Top each breakfast cake with some grilled bananas and any desired toppings (almond butter, yogurt, sprinkled cinnamon, etc.).

I don't think this could be any easier, friends! It'll take you no time to make this recipe, AND you'll enjoy it. It's quite tasty, especially with the grilled bananas and yogurt on top. The grilled "nanners" (yes, sometimes I refer to bananas as nanners) are so yummy! If you love oatmeal, this is a nice healthy twist on your typical bowl of oatmeal. I love finding new ways to eat the foods I love. :)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Favorites, 4.29.11

I'm back for another Friday Favorites, fine friends! Yes, all of that alliteration was intended. ;-)

What are my favorites this week? Well, I couldn't go without sharing something related to the Royal Wedding that is happening as I type this! Yes, I will admit it... I woke up early this morning to watch. I guess my invitation got lost in the mail, but I really don't mind watching from the comfort of my own living room. :)

So how about a delicious baked treat the the British might enjoy? When I think British, I think scones. I've come to love scones in the last few years. They tend to have a bad reputation for being dry and tasteless, but they can be far from that if you have the right recipe! I've made several delicious scone recipes over the past few years.

1) Strawberry Scones by Annie's Eats

(photo taken from Annie's Eats)

Aren't those gorgeous looking? And now that berries are in season, they'd be a great spring treat. Maybe I'll make them sometime soon and share my thoughts about them with you. :)

2) Earl Grey Tea Cookies by Shutterbean

(photo taken from Shutterbean)

What else do I think of when I think of the British? Tea! Although I love tea, because I am a baker, I have to share with you tea cookies...and more specifically, Earl Grey tea cookies! Earl Grey is one of my favorite kinds of tea. I actually bookmarked these cookies a while ago to make (some day I'll get around to it!), but today's Royal Wedding is the perfect occasion to share the recipe with you all. Such a unique creation!

That's going to be it for this week's Friday Favorites. I've got a Royal Wedding to get back to! ;-)

I'll be back soon with my own recipes though! I have so many in the line-up to share with you...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Bird Nest" Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Happy Easter!! I'm enjoying a wonderful Easter weekend at home with my family in good ol' upstate NY, and I hope that if you celebrate Easter, you're enjoying the holiday as well! As per usual, my mom asked me to bake a dessert for Easter dinner (hmmmm, I wonder why she asked me to bake something?!). Although I love carrot cake, I have never made it (gasp!), so I thought I'd give it a whirl since it seems like a very spring-like, Easter dessert to me. I mean, carrots & bunnies....they go hand in hand, right?

As you can see, I took these carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting a step further to make them "bird nests." Fun! The family appreciated my efforts to be festive. :)

The recipe I followed was really quite simple. The only step that took a little more time than usual was grating the carrots, but thanks to my food processor, it really didn't add that much time! Oh, and another great point about this recipe? It's Cooking Light! Check out the recipe here.

As you can see, the recipe calls for crushed pineapple and pecans, in addition to the grated carrots. I chose not to add the pecans (simply because I did not want my cupcakes to have a crunch to them). The pineapple is a fabulous addition to this recipe. It definitely makes the cake more moist, I think! Overall, this cake was pretty dense too, and I think that may also be attributed to the pineapple (and possibly the "weight" of the carrots too). The whole fam really enjoyed these cupcakes. They had just the right amount of sweetness to them, and both the carrot and pineapple flavors really came through. I love a moist cupcake, so these were top-notch in my book!

The batter doesn't look all that appetizing, but don't let that fool you. It tastes great, I promise. ;-)

I obviously had to use cute Easter cupcake liners!

I also toasted some coconut to use for the "bird nests," as you'll see shortly... It's super simple to toast coconut!

Mmmm, cream cheese frosting. It's always great to have a classic cream cheese frosting in your repertoire, so if you don't have one yet, I'd recommend this one! It was deeelish. Also of note, I only used about 2.5 cups of powdered sugar although the recipe calls for 3 cups.

Here's my little "decorating station" at my mom's kitchen table. :)

To make the "nests," I simply sprinkled some coconut around the outside of each cupcake and then placed a couple Cadbury mini eggs in the middle! You may recall that Cadbury mini eggs made it to an edition of my Friday Favorites a couple weeks ago. ;-) 

Too darn cute.

 Once again, Happy Easter, friends!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Favorites, 4.22.11 (A Review of a Wonderful Dining Experience at Ten Tables!)

Happy Friday, blog friends! I have a slightly different twist on my Friday Favorites this week. I'd like to share a recent dining experience Mike and I had at Ten Tables, an excellent restaurant in Jamaica Plain (or, JP, as we who live in Boston call it!). We went there last Friday for our 3-year anniversary (our actual anniversary was on April 13th - lucky 13! :)). Oh my goodness, what a wonderful meal we had. Ten Tables has quickly become a favorite place of mine; hence, it makes it to an edition of Friday Favorites on the blog! If you live in or around Boston, I'd highly recommend making a trip to Ten Tables if you haven't dined there yet. And even if you're not in the Boston area, keep this place on your list in case you ever have the chance to go when you visit our lovely city!

A very unique part of our experience at TT (I'm just going to say TT from now on!) was that we got to sit at the Chef's Table. This is a table (actually, a higher counter) that's right next to the kitchen, allowing you to overlook the kitchen activities as the head chef and others prepare your meal. When you call to make reservations here (and reservations are usually a must because it does only have ten tables and is very popular!), you can request to sit at the Chef's Table if it's available. It was a really neat experience for us and I'd definitely recommend it. The kitchen itself was quite small, and its atmosphere was generally very calm. I mean, it almost has to be calm if you know customers' eyes are on you! I often picture restaurant kitchens as being very busy and "crazy," but this one was not. We had a great time watching our food being prepared and studying how the kitchen works. From our perspective, Friday night's dinner at TT seemed to be going smoothly!

Within a couple minutes of sitting down, our waiter brought over fun little "shot glasses" for us that contained TT's soup of the night. I believe it was a cream of celery soup (it was definitely celery; I don't remember exactly what he said it was). It was out of this world delicious! I thought about requesting a whole bowl of it... :) No really, I did. We were also given yummy rolls to start, and we each ordered a glass of wine. I had a wine that was actually on tap! How fun. I've never been to place with wine on tap. My wine was delicious too. It was a light, crisp, and fruity Riesling (of course, I can't remember the actual name of it).

Because we were out for a special occasion at a new restaurant we'd really been wanting to try, we decided to order an appetizer. We had their "house made charcuterie with traditional accoutrements." I don't remember exactly what was included, but I do know there was a pate of some sort, a few slices of cured sausage (I think), some pickled vegetables (which were much better than I anticipated! I typically don't care for vinegar flavor generally), and a few slices of a toasted baguette-type bread. We enjoyed everything served on the appetizer plate (actually, it was a "board," a nice wooden cutting board type serving platter). However, I do have to say that the portions were a little on the small side for the price... But still, it was certainly a decent choice for an appetizer. It wasn't something I'd normally order, so it was fun to branch out!

Now, onto our entrees... You can view the TT menu here. Several delicious options! I had heard that the bass was an excellent choice, so I went with that: "striped bass with chick peas, cauliflower, escarole and seville orange vinaigrette." Fabulous! The bass was cooked wonderfully (it was seared), and I loved the bed of chick peas, cauliflower, and escarole upon which it was served. I ate every bite! Mike really enjoyed his entree too, which was the "moulard duck breast with red rice, shiitake mushrooms and spring onion jam." Mmmm. I had a bite of his too; mouth-watering delicious! By the way, sadly I did not take pictures of our appetizer or entrees. I felt too "touristy" doing that! However, as you can see below, I got over the anxiety of being "that person" who takes pictures of their meal when it came time for dessert...

Finally, our last course! At this point, we were full but not overly full. The proportions of our dinners were just perfect. In the words of Goldilocks, they were "juuuust right." :) Clearly I was quite excited about trying dessert since I'm such a fan of baking, so we just had to order two desserts to share, not only one! We chose the chocolate terrine cake with thai basil ice cream and malden salt AND the olive oil cake with rosemary ice cream and pinenut brittle. Wow. Both of these desserts were so amazing!

I really really liked my dinner, but I think that dessert was my favorite course overall! You may be thinking that the flavors of basil and rosemary are a little odd for ice cream, and at first, I'd agree with you. But when you try them, they wow you! Seriously. Both were very light, refreshing, and simply delicious. The rosemary flavor was more prominent as compared to the basil flavor, which was more subtle. Both flavors of ice cream were so unique!

And I won't forget to talk about the cakes, don't you worry. Similarly to when I tasted the ice creams, I was pleasantly surprised by the olive oil cake. You could definitely taste the olive oil, and I loved it! Such a difference from the typical cake flavors we normally enjoy. The chocolate terrine cake was deeelicious too. It was dense and almost fudge-like, yet had a nice cake texture at the same time. As I am typing, I find myself wanting to go back for more desserts ASAP!! I'm so glad we got two desserts to share. :)

As you can tell, we loved our first experience at TT! Want to hear something ironic? We went back to TT again the next Monday! Monday night is their "BEERger" night, when they offer a special of their signature TT burger and their TT Porter beer, brewed by Berkshire Brewing Co. in Massachusetts. The burger and beer together are just $16! Normally we wouldn't go out to eat this often (and not at the same place within four days!), but we had such a positive experience on Friday night and it was Mike's school vacation we thought we should "live it up." Once again, TT did not disappoint! The burger was amazingly delicious. It was a tad on the messy side, but we didn't mind because the flavors were soooo good. Here's the description of the burger on the menu: "humanely raised all natural meyer beef with lettuce, farmhouse cheddar, caramelized onions, A10 sauce, housemade bacon aioli, and potato salad." Wonderful! I feel like a broken record saying this, but I'd definitely recommend going to TT for the burger! The bacon aioli was out of this world. And the side of potato salad was great as well; I typically don't care for side salads like that with mayonnaise, but their potato salad was awesome! Can you tell I like this place? ;-) Oh, and the porter was a very tasty beer as well; it tasted slightly smokey to me, but I think that was a great characteristic of the porter and helped it match well with the flavors of the burger. A great pair, that porter and beer! The picture below is of a great pair too. :) Happy anniversary, Mike!

I hope you've enjoyed my informal review of Ten Tables in JP! I didn't mention it earlier, but the service was great too! Every server with whom we interacted was very friendly and attentive. Did you know there are locations in Cambridge and Provincetown as well? I've heard through the grapevine that the JP location is the best, and although I've never tried the other two to compare, with these two positively delicious experiences we recently had, I'd gladly jump on board and say the JP restaurant is the best! It's "just perfect" in JP. :)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Monkey Bars (Pillsbury Bake-Off Recipe!)

Hello hello! It's time for the long-awaited recipe for the bars I submitted to the Pillsbury Bake-Off contest! Oh boy. :) I am really excited and happy with how the final recipe turned out...let's just hope Pillsbury is too! Oh, and have I mentioned that the grand prize for this is $1 million?!? It would obviously be amazing to win the grand prize, but I'd be really pleased if I even make it to the top 100 finalists! Check out more details about the Bake-Off contest here. I have always wanted to enter a recipe, so I'm glad I finally got around to it this year!

It took me three tries to get to the final recipe. Each recipe was very good (I had friends and coworkers taste test for me along the way! I didn't have to twist their arms too much ;-)), but I think the final version was definitely the best. Even if I don't win, I'm proud of coming up with my own original recipe! The whole process was so much fun. It took some time to figure out just the right proportions of different ingredients, and it was interesting to really analyze the flavors and textures of each rendition of the recipe. My friends and coworkers didn't seem to mind that I kept "bothering" them to taste with me. :)

Love the layers you can see there!

Alrightie, enough babbling... Time to share my original recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Monkey Bars! You'll notice that for some items, I've mentioned brand names. This is because as part of the contest, you have to use at least one ingredient from two different lists, A and B, that contain many different items that fall under the umbrella of General Mills products (which Pillsbury is, along with many other brands!).

One of the ingredients from List A was this here box of brownie mix. :)


-1 box (19.5 oz.) Pillsbury milk chocolate brownie mix
-1 large egg
-1/2 cup Crisco pure vegetable oil
-12 graham cracker squares (or, 6 whole graham crackers)
-1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (equals approximately 1 large banana)
-1/2 cup Jif creamy peanut butter
-1 can (14 oz.) Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
-1/3 cup Hershey's semi-sweet chocolate chips
-1 teaspoon Crisco pure vegetable oil

You certainly do not have to use the brand names I've included here. Any brand will do just fine.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9 baking pan with cooking spray.

Place the graham cracker squares in a large food storage plastic bag. Seal tightly, and using a rolling pin or the back of a spoon, crush the crackers (they should be coarsely crushed, not finely crushed). This will equal approximately 1 and 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs.

In a large bowl, mix the brownie mix, egg, and 1/2 cup vegetable oil with a spoon or spatula. Add 1 cup of the graham cracker crumbs to the brownie mixture, and mix well. Reserve 1 cup of this mixture to use later, and firmly press the remaining mixture into the bottom of the greased baking pan with your hands or the back of a spoon.

In a medium bowl, combine the mashed banana, peanut butter, and sweetened condensed milk. Stir by hand until well-incorporated and smooth (although there will likely still be some banana lumps in the mixture). Pour the mixture evenly on top of the bottom brownie layer already in the pan.

Next, in a medium bowl, combine the reserved 1 cup of brownie mixture and remaining 1/4 cup of graham cracker crumbs. Once combined, stir this mixture with a fork to make it more crumbly. Sprinkle the mixture evenly across the top of the peanut butter layer. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 25 to 30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean and the middle peanut butter layer does not "jiggle" if you shake the baking pan slightly.

Cool completely, about 2 hours.

In a small microwaveable bowl, microwave the 1/3 cup chocolate chips and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil on high at intervals of 15 seconds, stirring in between each time. Continue until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Put the melted chocolate glaze into a small food storage plastic bag and cut off a small tip from one corner of the bag. Drizzle the chocolate glaze on top of the bars, and let stand until the chocolate is set (you could also just drizzle the chocolate glaze with a fork or the end of a spatula if you don't want to "fool" with the ziploc baggie method).

Cut into bars of desired size (makes 24 to 32 bars, depending on how you cut them!).

See how these are not finely crushed, but rather "coarsely" crushed? That's key. I don't think finely crushed graham cracker crumbs would work as well in this recipe. The bigger crumbs add a slight crunch to the texture of the bars, and that's what I was going for.

This banana wasn't super ripe, but it still worked great and lent just the right amount of banana flavor. Feel free to use a more ripe banana when you make these!

This is the banana, peanut butter, and sweetened condensed milk mixture. There will be some lumps in it, so don't worry about mixing it to make it completely smooth.

This is the first, bottom brownie layer in the pan. Notice it's not nearly as liquid-y as a typical brownie mix! I decreased the liquid amount that you'd normally add to a brownie mix by quite a bit.

Here's the peanut butter layer next...

And the final "crumbly" layer!

A view after the bars are baked...

Here they are, drizzled with chocolate and cut for all to enjoy!

Yummmm. A quick synopsis of my impressions of the final product (other than they're delicious! you already know I think that :))... 

I really enjoyed the different textures going on in these bars. The bottom layer served more as a crust and was solid and sturdy (although not crunchy, per se). The middle layer was softer and just slightly gooey. It had a subtle banana flavor that wasn't too overpowering. I even think that people who do not care for banana would like these bars! I think the peanut butter and chocolate flavors are more pronounced, whereas the banana flavor plays an important, yet more subtle role. The top layer had a very slight crunch to it, thanks to the extra graham crackers I added to that layer. And then the drizzle of chocolate on top just made them more fun!

The inspiration behind these bars came from the fact that so many of us enjoy peanut butter and banana as a combination, as well as chocolate and banana as a combination. Yet there are few food items or recipes I can think of that combine the three! I had a fun time naming these bars. I had come up with a few ideas on my own, but some friends and coworkers participated in a poll to determine the final name that I'd submit. Chocolate Peanut Butter Monkey Bars was created by my friend Lindsay. Thanks, Linds, for the final winning name! A couple other ideas included Bananorama Graham Bars and Chocolate Peanut Butter Bananagrams, which are both fun as well!

Thanks for sticking with me to read this lengthy post. Please keep your fingers crossed that I get some good news from Pillsbury later this spring or early this summer!! And in the meantime, go make these Chocolate Peanut Butter Monkey Bars! You're going to love them, and that's a Barbershop guarantee. :)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Favorites, 4.15.11

Happy Tax Day! Hope all of you have done your taxes and aren't scrambling to finish them this weekend. ;-) 

Above are a few spring-like words for you. I hope the weather is giving you spring fever, wherever you are!

Now, onto this week's Friday Favorites!

1) Kale chips

In my first edition of Friday Favorites on April 1st, I mentioned a few kale recipes given to us by the lovely Jenn at LiveWellFitNow. Remember how I said that cooking with kale was on my to-do list? Well, I can finally cross it off! I made Jenn's delicious kale chips this week. YUMMM, friends! So delicious. These will become a regular recipe in my kitchen.

Here is some fresh kale before I baked it... SO bright n' green! All you do is drizzle the kale with olive oil, salt, and pepper (and grated cheese if you wish, but I did not)...

Here are the chips after they were baked! Notice the slightly browned color. That's just what you're looking for when you make these. They become nice and crispy at that point - kinda like biting into a potato chip! No, they taste nothing like potato chips though. ;-) I think Jenn was very accurate when she described the taste as a combo of roasted asparagus and roasted broccoli. I could not get enough of these!!!! Just loved 'em. You should try them too! They're a wonderful, healthy snack, side dish, or addition to a salad perhaps? :)

2) Spring Butterfly Cookies by Annie's Eats

Click on the link... How gorgeous are those cookies? Wow. Love the colors!

I don't know if any of you out there have a mini spatula, but if you do not have one, you must get one! You just must. I've had mine for several years now, and it's one of my kitchen utensils that I just couldn't go without. It's perfect for scooping out that first brownie or bar from the pan! It's great for smaller cookies too. I've been using mine quite often in the past couple weeks since I've been making a few batches of my Pillsbury Bake-Off bars (recipe will be revealed next week!). I've used my mini spatula to dish out the bars and feed them to my coworkers who've been the best taste-testers ever. :)

Have a fantastic weekend, friends!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream

We're sloooowly getting into the warmer spring months here in Boston, and this past weekend was one of the best we've had in quite a while weather-wise. What did that make me think of? Ice cream!! I've read many recipes on several blogs for homemade ice cream; however, the trouble is that many of these recipes require an ice cream maker! And that's one kitchen gadget that I don't have (one of very few - I have many kitchen gadgets and appliances, folks!). So, when I recently came across an ice cream recipe that did not require a machine, I was psyched!

You know what else is neat about this ice cream recipe? It's vegan! I personally do not eat vegan, but for anyone out there who does, this is a fabulous recipe. :)

The list of great things about this recipe goes on and on. I just thought of something else. There are only three ingredients to make this ice cream! Yep, you heard me right. Three things. What are they?

~ bananas, peanut butter, cocoa powder ~


The recipe can be found here at a site entitled Clean Green Simple. It's such a great site! If you click on the link there, you'll see that she has three recipes actually...berry blend ice cream, peanut butter chocolate ice cream, and butter pecan ice cream. Obviously I made the peanut butter chocolate one. ;-) All three of these recipes are vegan, gluten free, low fat, and sugar free. Neat!

Here's the recipe for easy viewing on my site too:

-2 bananas, sliced then frozen (note that it says slice then freeze. Doing it the other way around is much more difficult.)
-3 Tbsp creamy peanut butter
-3 Tbsp cocoa powder
-1 tsp agave nectar (optional)
Blend bananas, peanut butter and chocolate together in a food processor until smooth. Depending on how frozen your bananas are, it may go through a crumbly phase – just scrape down the sides of the bowl and keep blending and it will smooth out. Add agave nectar to taste. Top with chopped peanuts and chocolate, if desired.

Ewww, black bananas?! Nah, they're just frozen. :)

Cutting up the bananas! It might be easier to cut the bananas prior to freezing them, but I clearly didn't do that... I had these bananas frozen in my freezer for a couple weeks (long before I decided to make this recipe!).

Everything's starting to come together...

I added literally about three drops of honey (maybe 1/2 tsp. total). I don't think it made any difference in the taste, so if you try making this, I think you can omit it. The recipe calls for agave nectar, but I don't have that on hand so I added a touch of honey since they're apparently similar!

I thought it'd be fun to add some toppings, so I toasted a few pecans and some coconut and topped my serving with those. :)

I really enjoyed this "ice cream"!! I'd say its consistency was in between soft ice cream and hard ice cream. It wasn't quite as soft as the soft serve you'd get in a twist cone :), but it also wasn't as hard as the ice cream you'd buy in a half gallon to have in your freezer! The banana flavor was present, FYI. I realize the name of this ice cream is chocolate peanut butter, not chocolate peanut butter banana. It really is the chocolate and peanut butter flavors that dominate though! Mike tried this too, and he really enjoyed it as well. It was so refreshing (literally and figuratively!) to eat something so simple, healthy (for the most part), and delicious. Such a tasty treat! I hope you'll try it! :)