Banana Cream Pi 

Okay, sit down. I’m serious, sit down, I have a confession. 

I’ve never participated in Pi day before. 

*hangs head*

I’ve seen it wizz by online as people gleefully post pic of their best pies and Pi’s, but if I posted a pic in the past it wasn’t a pie I’d made for the occasion, but something I had on the camera roll. I don’t make pies much. They’re good, but I’m a cake gal. And crusts can be tricky. I feel for the people who ate my early hard as rock pie crusts and biscuits. Sorry ’bout that. 

Part of working on my PhD and trying to crack into academia is it is the world’s biggest time suck. There are a lot of things that pass me by or I have to opt out of because I’m working on something, or catching up on work I out off working on something else.  In other words, endless fun and glamour. 

But that’s the gig and it’s not forever, so ok. This year I happened to have some ripe bananas and even though I’m on a terrible time crunch with my dissertation proposal, I thought I’d try and fit it in. So on breaks from revising and over two days I made this…

I started with an interesting crust recipe. Kenji over at Serious Eats had a new way of making a crust that rejected the old method of leaving large chunks of fat and keeping the dough really dry. You make a paste with the butter and flour and then add a bit more flour. Crazy, but he claims his crust was almost no fail and easy to roll. 



Well he was right! It came together so easy I thought it was wrong (it was wrong the first time I tried it and realized I had almost twice the flour, ugh). 

And this is how it baked up



Ain’t she pretty? This is hands down the easiest pie crust I’ve ever made. And it tastes delicious. The only adjustment I made was to replace 6T of the butter with shortening. He says it makes it more tender,  but I also don’t love an all butter crust. A little butter a little shortening that’s the best of both worlds. 



And this is how it baked up (some of my snack scraps). Look at how flakey it is. Yummy stuff. Blind bake the crust to golden brown. Let it cool. 

I’m not going to include the filling I used because I’m not in love with it. I managed to get workable, but I prefer the old timey Better Homes and Gardens cream pie filling. If you can find that, use it and add bananas, if not just whip up some vanilla pudding and you’re set. Let the pudding cool at room temp covered with some cling film to avoid the yucky skin from forming. 

Once the crust and the filling have cooled their jets you can assemble. You can either start with a little filling or a layer of bananas. I put a bit of filling and then half the bananas. Eyeball about half the rest of the filling and cover the banana layer. Add another layer of bananas and top with the rest of the filling. Make sure you leave enough filling to cover all the naners or they’ll get brown and gross. 

After its assembled give it a rest in the fridge so it gets nice and cold.  Top with whipped cream and I threw on some toasted almond slices. 



A thing of beauty. Happy Pi day! 

I dub thee Proposal Cake

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I don’t have much time, but I’m dropping in for a second just to take a break from writing. I’m working on submitting my proposal for a defense date of April 7th.  It seems like it’s way off, but there is spring break and my adviser’s trip to factor in, so it feels tight.

I’m working away, but I need to take small breaks and over the course of a few small breaks yesterday I made this wee cake.  It’s just a 8×8 fun cake I made from a Smitten Kitchen recipe you can find here.  It is wicked easy and holy crap, it’s so good.  I’m eating little bits to keep me going.  You know just to keep my energy up, yah, that’s it.  So I’ve named it proposal cake and by the time I’m done with it, I’ll have my first draft off to my adviser.

Still wish me luck, proposal cake’s magical powers only work so hard.

It ain’t fall until someone bakes up some pumpkin

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Well, two posts in a week…  That’s a little scary, and let’s not set this up as an unmeetable precedent.  However, I took a couple of minutes and baked an absolutely delightful fall treat and I needed to share.

Fall is my favorite time of year.  It brings the promise of football, snuggling in blankets, wooly sweaters, and the comforting heartier foods of the season. The thick stews, long braised fatty meat, and slow roasted Brussels Sprouts make my mouth water. But let’s be honest, if you were playing Password and could only name one food to conjure up the idea of fall, it would be pumpkin.

To say I merely “like” to use pumpkin in my cooking would probably be an understatement. I love the stuff to the extent that I’ve even tried baking fresh pumpkin for pies. That works okay, but let’s be honest, Libby’s has the pumpkin game locked down.

What isn’t always easy is making a pumpkin baked item that is light. Pumpkin baked goods can end up can end up seeming a little heavy.  Last year after a few pumpkin bread and muffin fails I have been looking around for a new recipe. So when I saw the Tartine bakery’s Pumpkin Tea Cake virtues extolled several times, I thought I had to hunt up a recipe and make it myself.  What I like about Chic Eats’ post is the flexibility to use a scale or cups to measure out ingredients (I used my scale).

This recipe is very easy, and it bakes up an incredibly moist quick bread masquerading as a snack cake. It has a very pumpkiny taste, tender crumb, and did I mention it was moist? The extra sugar creates a crackly crust on top that sets off the moist cake beneath. You can bake it in smaller loafs, just adjust the cooking time down. The only change I made was I use much less spice than the recipe called for and I added in one of my own. I used 1t cinnamon, 1/4t ground cloves, pinch of ginger (my addition), and several generous gratings of whole nutmeg.  I don’t love baked goods that are drowning in the pumpkin pie spices, and that amount of cinnamon would have put my teeth on edge, but if you like to (pie) spice it up, go for it.  But do get on baking this cake; it won’t be fall until you do.

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Tartine Bakery’s Pumpkin Tea Cake from Chic Eats

OMG – What’s happening?

I realize it’s been a while and probably none of you are still around, and that’s fine.  I would’ve quit me too.  It was a rough year last year and heck blogging is like journaling and I always sucked at that, so there.

I’m back though and am doing a little TV blogging to over at my other blog What I Watch Now or https://wiwnow.wordpress.com    It’s my little reward for getting my work done for the day and I do like blogging and it’s fun. So if I’m not here I’ll be there and so forth.  Unless I’m not either place, then I’m hopefully working which is good.  Mamma gots to finish.

What has brought me back is I’m doing a little experiment on my patio.  I had a big beautiful mint plant in a pot this summer. It was glorious. I use pots because mint is a weed and will take over your yard in like 5 minutes if given half a change. But I have to have my mint (mojitos!), so there you have it.

I noticed a few weeks ago it was on its last legs. I pretty much give up watering come August and unless we get rain stuff that needs water starts to die. It got rangy and I was having guests over, so I tried to rip out the plant, but all I got were the stems and the let’s call it “main plant” that was left above ground. The roots were too deep.

Being busy (read-lazy) I just left it there and noticed there was some activity. Well that voracious grower hasn’t disappointed me, this is the mint today

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HOLY MOLEY! It’s totally back. Two weeks ago this was just dirt and now it’s going to town.  I know this won’t last, but I’ve decided to just let it go and see what it does.  I’m going to leave it all winter too and see if it comes back.  This is basically a mint throw down.

Basil Oil, thy time is now

Tomatoes with Basil Oil

Delicious evidence

I have several things on my plate for the next couple of weeks, but I couldn’t keep this from you. It was one of those things I made for myself and thought, dang it how selfish would I be not to share this? I’ll make this quick…

Last weekend I hit our local farmer’s market and was delighted to find tomatoes. I know, tomatoes are in the grocery store every week of the year and there’s even been hothouse tomatoes at the market for a while. That’s not what I’m taking about. I’m talking about “grown in the ground”, luscious, sweet, red (and other colors too!!) tomatoes. The kind when you smell they they have that vine-y tomatoes smell. You know it, and to me it’s summer. I have memories of canning bushels of tomatoes with my mom and my dad and making his special spaghetti sauce.

While any tomato are pretty good, but they’re even better when you try eating them seasonally. Back in the day I used to take cooking classes from a restaurant in Madison, L’Etoile (I miss those classes, dang it, Chef Tory, bring them back!). I learned so much from their chefs, but their founder, Odessa Piper was like the Midwest equivalent of Alice Waters. Very much an early adapter of the local food movement, she is a rare gem and visionary. One of my favorite classes was following her around the Madison Farmer’s Market and meeting each of her favorite purveyors. I still shop from them when I’m in the area. She always extolled the virtues of eating seasonally. How much more delicious it is to eat a tomato, or even a BLT if you haven’t for many months. Then she said you eat them when they are in season until you’re almost sick of them because you crave them so much, but it is these “culinary vacations” we have to take from certain fruits and vegetables when we eat seasonally that makes them all the more special.

Now I can’t do this, at least not completely. I’m lucky in that I live by a really great farmer’s market in central IL. I can even get peaches locally for a few months over the summer. However, if I couldn’t get local peaches I’d have to get them somehow. There’s other things like avocados that I just couldn’t live without. And I do eat the occasional tomato off season, but they don’t taste very good, and I usually regret it in the morning.

By now you’re saying, “Um, so what does this have to do with Basil Oil? Can we circle back to the point, hmm?”. Sorry for the long windup, but I’m getting there. When tomatoes are in season, basil is right there too. Basil and tomatoes, like Bert and Ernie, two very different things that go quite well together. At the market last week as I squirreled together my tomato stash, I grabbed a bunch of basil (yes, I have “basil” in my “garden” but my garden is a sad sad place where plants go to die and I’m trying to give them their space. That’s for another time. Or not).

I had been plotting to make a Margarita Pizza with my spoils when I turned on an episode of Barefoot Contessa where she was drizzling some gorgeous vivid green oil over some tomatoes. Basil Oil! I thought, well, why not? I googled up a recipe and found a good one on Epicurious. A couple of words of advice about the recipe. You need to blanch the basil or it will get muddy brown. A big part of this recipe is how beautiful it looks, so take 5 seconds and blanch it. I shocked it in ice water too, but cold water is probably fine. Also, I used a mixture of olive and canola oil because the olive oil I had was kind of spicy. I’d use all olive the next time I make it. It doesn’t have to be fancy oil, but I think all olive would have been a bit jazzier.

Oh so delicious

Mmmm, my bright green precious…

That’s not to say it wasn’t delicious. Seriously. I made a caprese salad with tomato, fresh mozzarella, and basil and it was amazing. You can see the evidence, or lack there of above and I’m not saying this lightly; it was incredible. Over the next few days I was looking for ways to use it. I made some sandwiches and used it as a spread/oil for the bread. I also drizzled it over some fish I steamed in the oven.  There are so many ways you could use this oil. Also, It lasted for several days and stayed bright green and tasty.

So um, not quick I guess, but I couldn’t help myself. ‘Tis the season for basil oil and fresh tomatoes.

Protip: Freezing Cookie Dough

Cookie PlateI love chocolate chip cookies. Not a huge leap, but it needs to be stated nonetheless. These cookies are ones I made for the social work policy class I’m teaching. I bake for my classes, it’s what I do. See what I did there? For just a nanosecond it ran through your mind that you might consider taking a social policy class in order to secure some of my baked goods, and that my faithful reader is the power of a good chocolate chip cookie.* And yes, I use my baking superpowers for good, as you will see.

But come on who can blame you, who doesn’t love warm, melty, homemade chocolate chip cookies? You could say I inherited my love of chocolate chips and cooking from my grandma. My grandma was a good cook. She was a traditional 60’s style cook, nothing fancy or haute, but just good tasty food. She liked to cook, and I guess I inherited that from her.

scan0246Wasn’t she pretty? She also made a mean chocolate chip cookie. When we’d come to visit the cookies would always be there, and when we left we’d often have a tin of cookies to take home. They were a variation on the old Toll House Cookie recipe, but they were much more cakey. Once she taught me how to make them. Her secret was basically “more flour”. She was older then and cookie dough was so stiff that her arthritis made her mix the dough by hand. I remember thinking she must love me very much to go to that much effort for me.

When I was little these cookies were magic, and so of course when I got older I wanted to make them myself. Toll House was my jumping off point too. In my opinion, regular Toll Houses are a bit thin and meh. Over the years I’ve honed my own recipe. I too add a little more flour, but less than my grandma. I toast my pecans to add some depth to their flavor. I also put in a bit more vanilla, and use good vanilla, you really can tell. With my few small, yet important tweaks I think I’ve hit on a great slightly chewy chocolate chipper with just a bit of puff.

Now we all know that the best chocolate chip cookie is warm and right out of the oven, and sadly too often we are deprived of them having to settle for a regular room temperature cookie.  Oh it is a rough world we live in, but lucky for you, I solved all that. A few years ago at the grocery store I noticed a little tub of cookie dough in the refrigerated section. I got thinking why couldn’t I do something like that myself? What I needed was a way to preserve my own cookie dough without the additives that little tub was chocked full of. Then it hit me, freezing. All I had to do was freeze balls of dough and I could have warm cookies whenever I wanted. Choco chip freezerYou’ll notice they don’t look especially ball-like. My cookies usually need a bit of a smoosh so they flatten out as they cook.  I take a small ice cream scoop**, pop a bunch of balls of dough on my Silpat lined cookie sheet and then squish them. Okay, I also top them with a sprinkle of salt because I apparently feel the need to salt everything sweet I make, but that’s pretty much it. Once they’re frozen solid they can be sealed in a baggie, just push all the air out so they stay fresher. For cooking, just toss them on a cookie sheet and bake ’em up. You can bake up a bunch or you can bake just one or two for yourself. I usually just keep an eye on them, they’ll need a few more minutes than the right out of the mixer ones.

Choc chip cookiesAnd voila, cookies! Now you can have a warm cookie whenever the mood strikes you. So whether it’s been a long day or that special someone drops by and you want to woo him or her with the irresistible allure of warm cookies.  All you need to do is heat up the oven.

*If you didn’t think that, you are obviously a cyborg because only they are immune to the powers of a good cookie. Stop reading my blog, cyborg!

**Ice cream scoops make baking so much easier. I use a regular sized scoop for portioning out muffin batter and a small scoop for making a lot of cookies really fast. If you bake a lot try it I swear they’ll make your life so much easier, call this protip part deux.

This is the Black Bean Soup you’re looking for

Bean Soup

So I really like black beans. There was a time in my life when I would cook up a pot of black beans regularly. I’d use them in tacos or burritos, mix in white rice, and even make up a little soup. I like to use them in place of other beans. I mean, come on who really likes the kidney beans in chili? *

I can’t remember where I first ate black bean soup, but I vividly recall the experience. It was a small hot bowl, almost bittersweet chocolate in color. The taste was savory and spicy with just a bit of lime. It wasn’t totally smooth, but had whole beans swimming in the thick beany broth.

The deal sealer with black bean soup are the garnishes.  In the same way as a good chili, you need to top black bean soup with something. Preferably many somethings. This restaurant topped the soup with a scoop of steamed white rice. It was amazing. It is the flavor of that soup that I chase when I make my own recipes today.

This recipe below also busts a myth or two. You really don’t need to soak beans before you cook them. I still will soak beans if I think about it, but often I just cook up black beans for soup and it’s just fine.  Also, I added salt relatively early in the cooking process and again it was just fine. I know some claim that salt inhibits the cooking process with beans, but I haven’t had that experience, and by adding salt your beans aren’t blah.

Black Bean Ingr

For the Beans

1# black beans

1 ham hock

2 bay leaves

6 cups of water

1/8 t baking soda

1 t salt

For the Soup

3 T olive oil

1 large onion

1 large carrot

1 red pepper

2 large cloves garlic

½ t red pepper flakes, I may have used a bit more, so to taste

1 ½ T ground cumin

½ c chopped tomatoes (I used some larger pieces from a jar I canned last fall)

4 cups chicken broth

Some Garnishes

Lime juice

Minced cilantro

Red onion

Greek Yogurt

 Alternate garnish

Cooked white rice

Chopped BBS

 How to do it

Start by combining all the bean ingredients except the salt in a nice sized Dutch oven. Turn it up and get a good boil going over medium heat. Stir in salt and lower the heat to a peppy simmer.  Simmer covered until the beans are tender.  Mine took about 90 minutes, but check them. Also, keep track of the water. If it starts to get low add another cup. When the beans are tender, I put everything in a large bowl,  remove the hock and the bay. When the hock is cooled, remove the meat and chop it up to add back in.

Saute bbs

Wipe the dutch oven clean with a paper towel. Toss the oil in the pan and heat over medium high. Add the onion, carrot, pepper to the pan and stir occasionally. You’ll cook them until they are very soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic, pepper flakes, and cumin to the pan, stirring frequently until fragrant maybe a minute or two. Add the beans, cooking liquid, tomatoes, hock meat, and chicken broth to the pan and adjust the heat so you get a nice boil, then lower to a simmer for about a half hour so the flavors can combine.

Soup bbs

When it seems ready, take 3-4 cups of the soup and put it in the container that held my homemade stock. You want something tall, so you can whip out your immersion blender and frappe the soup into a smooth thickener.  Once it’s smooth, add it back to the pot and you should have a slightly thickened bean soup that still had whole beans and bits of veggies.

Whirr bbs

Then you’re done. This soup is very close to what I remember from that soup that got me hooked. It is just a little thick, but still silky with a depth of flavor that has just a bit of heat. Don’t forget when you serve it to have a little assembly of garnishes. Your guests will love  customizing their own bowls with various add ons. Let’s be honest, people usually hop up their chili until it’s more garnishes than actual chili, and that’s how it should be.

Bean Soup

Suggested beverage: Malbec or a Pale Ale.

* Answer is no one.  Kidney beans are gross.