Banana-Macadamia Nut Bread

banana bread pic

This makes one of the best banana breads I’ve ever tried; it always comes out moist, and it’s a cinch to make. Assembly time is 15 mins. tops. In his Roy’s Feasts from Hawaii, Roy (yes, we’re on a first-name basis here at home) says it makes a 9-inch round cake pan or loaf pan, but I always get two substantial loaves out of it, or about 6 tea-loaves (making it really easy to offer as party favors). I also took his advice once and used it for a banana bread pudding to finish off a tropical luncheon for some of my friends; it was very ono!

½ c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ c. sugar
½ c. brown sugar
1 lb. overripe bananas, peeled and mashed
2 t. baking powder
2 t. baking soda
3 1/3 c. flour
2 eggs
1/3 c. water
½ c. chopped macadamia nuts (reserve 2 T. for the topping)
¼ c. raisins (optional)
¼ c. shredded coconut (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or loaf pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until smooth. Add the bananas and beat for 1 min. Sift the baking powder and baking soda into the flour and stir into the banana-butter mixture. Add the eggs and water, and beat for 1 min. Stir in the nuts, and the raisins and coconut, if desired.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with the reserved nuts. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 35-45 mins, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

(My notes: I always add the coconut, but never the raisins. I also always add 1 t. of vanilla extract. Also, I confess to using the dump method of mixing: using a really sturdy standing mixer – like a Kitchen Aid – I turn on the mixer and start adding the ingredients from the top of the list on down, except that I add the flour after the water. That’s it! No wonder it only takes me 15 mins. (or less) to assemble. Also instead of sprinkling chopped nuts on top (because I always forget and put them in the batter), I simply arrange some whole macadamia nuts on top.)

Snickerdoodles

 

I was feeling nostalgic yesterday – my daughter was traveling with friends on Spring Break, my son was visiting a college with my husband, and I was home alone for a whole day-and-night. Just the concept of cleaning the refrigerator uninterrupted was almost exciting somehow – pathetic, I know. But I also had the time to make something (and finish the process) that was self-indulgent. So, I made snickerdoodles.

cookie jar

These cookies have a history: they hark back to my first Home Economics class in 7th grade with Mrs. Bremer in Room 105. This will date me, but it was the type of Home Ec room that had six fully–supplied, complete kitchens for the class to break up into smaller groups and practice cookery. My first lesson in that class was “Summer Cooler” (basically homemade egg nog with a scoop of strawberry ice cream) and Cinnamon Toast Fingers (toasted under a broiler); but that’s another story.

home ec notebook

Mrs. Bremer gave us a lot of good, old-fashioned American recipes, and snickerdoodles was one of them. Possibly German in origin, they are indigenous to the Northeast. (Hence, I always include them in my New England-style Thanksgiving menu – yet another story.) Yes, they are self-indulgent, but fortunately, my son loves them, too. They are wonderful with a mug of coffee or glass of cold milk! Perfect for mother-son bonding (which we did when he came home from his college visit).cookie crumbs

½ c. unsalted butter
1½ c. sugar
2 large eggs
2¾ c. flour
2 t. cream of tartar
2 t. baking soda
¼ t. salt

Topping: 2 T. sugar and 2 t. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Sift together flour, cream of tartar and baking soda. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture, mixing thoroughly. Roll into balls, using about ½ T. of dough for each ball. Roll cookie balls in sugar-cinnamon mixture and place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

snickerdoodles pan

Bake for about 8-10 mins. or until just lightly browned (but still soft).  Makes about 80 cookies.

Tsatziki

Tsatziki is a Greek classic – a cool-as-a-cucumber, appetizer dip that can be extended into the main part of the meal.  This is an excellent recipe from Joyce Goldstein’s Mediterranean Cooking. It’s great as an hors d’oeuvre with pita bread triangles, or as a condiment with roast chicken (or lamb) and rice pilaf. The secret ingredient is the fresh mint.

2 c. plain yogurt
1 small cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and coarsely grated
Salt
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 t. pure olive oil
2 t. lemon juice
3 T. chopped fresh mint
Freshly ground pepper

1. Line a sieve with cheesecloth (or a doubled paper towel) and place over a bowl. Spoon the yogurt into the sieve, cover and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours or as long as overnight.
2. Place the grated cucumber in a sieve set over a bowl, sprinkle with salt and let drain for 30 mins. Then rinse off the salt and gently squeeze the cucumber dry.
3. In a bowl, combine the drained yogurt, garlic, olive oil, cucumber, lemon juice, and chopped mint. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs, if desired.

Cook’s notes: I use low-fat Mountain High plain yogurt; I’ve tried Fage yogurt, thinking that Greek-style yogurt would be better, but it was way too thick and heavy. I just put the garlic through a garlic press (no mincing for me!); I just sliver the mint, I don’t really chop it. And I don’t add extra salt after salting the cucumbers; it doesn’t need it. I do add pepper, of course.

Shortbread Cookies

This recipe comes from Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins’ classic, The Silver Palate Cookbook. It’s simple and delicious, and my vanilla-ice-cream-preferring son is crazy about these cookies – especially with a simple butter cream frosting (right off the back of the C&H powdered sugar box). My daughter, on the other hand, who can smell a dish and tell you which spices are included, prefers them with a little sprinkle of sugar – no frosting. These cookies have seen every birthday party I’ve ever given, every Christmas, and every Valentine’s Day, too. This is an amazingly simple but elegant cookie.

¾ lb. unsalted butter, softened
1 c. confectioners’ sugar
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
½ t. salt
½ t. vanilla extract
¼ c. granulated sugar

Cream butter and confectioners’ sugar together until light.
Sift flour and salt together and add to creamed mixture. Add vanilla and blend thoroughly.
Gather dough into a ball, wrap in wax paper, and chill for 4 to 6 hours.
Roll out chilled dough to 5/8-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch long heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out cookies. Sprinkle tops with granulated sugar. Place cut-out cookies on ungreased cookie sheets and refrigerate for 45 mins. before baking.
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Bake for 20 mins. or until just starting to color lightly; cookies should not brown at all. Cool on a rack.
Makes 20 cookies.

(For the record, I skip the initial chilling for 4-6 hrs. It’s easier to roll out the cookie dough on the cookie sheets with a piece of wax paper over the dough. I roll out the dough to about 3/8-inch thickness, cut out the cookies, reroll the scraps, cut out more cookies, and then I pop the cookie sheets in the refrigerator for about 20 mins. Then I bake them, usually for about 13-14 mins. I take them out of the oven just as they are starting to turn golden around the edges – ideally, they hardly turn color at all. When I make these cookies for any Hawaiian-themed or tropical event, I use pineapple- and palm-tree shaped cookie cutters and I sprinkle them with Tropical Flavored sugars – Mango or Vanilla Macadamia Nut – from the Maui Culinary Academy. The extra flavor is subtle but works well with these elegantly simple cookies.)

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

This is a fabulous recipe from Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins’ The Silver Palate Cookbook.  It’s moist, spicy, and dense.  And it comes out perfectly every time.    When I’m feeling very health-conscientious, I substitute light olive oil for the corn oil; I have never been able to tell the difference, and no one has ever noticed!  The Silver Palate recommends baking the cake in two 9” layer pans; this is great if you want a round, layered cake.    And when I want to stretch the servings a little more, I use a 9” x 13” cake pan, and make it single-layer; I’ve included the proportions for either size.

Two 9” layer cakes:Carrot Birthday Cake
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
3 c. granulated sugar
1 t. salt
1 T. baking soda
1 T. Cinnamon
1½ c. corn oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 T. vanilla extract
1½ c. shelled walnuts, chopped                             1 1/2 c. shredded coconut
1 1/3 c. pureed cooked carrots
¾ c. drained crushed pineapple

One 9” x 13” cake:Single layer carrot cake
4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
4c. granulated sugar
1¼ t. salt
4 t. baking soda
4 t. cinnamon
2 c. corn oil
5 large eggs plus 1 egg white, lightly beaten
4 t. vanilla extract
2 c. shelled walnuts, chopped
2 c. shredded coconut
1¾ c. pureed cooked carrots
1 c. drained crushed pineapple

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease cake pans lined with wax paper.
Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Add oil, eggs, and vanilla. Beat well. Fold in walnuts, coconut, carrots, and pineapple.
Pour batter into the prepared pans. Set on the middle rack and bake for 30 to 35 mins, until edges have pulled away from sides of and a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool on a cake rack for 3 hrs. Fill cake and frost sides with cream cheese frosting (recipe below).

Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
6 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 c. confectioners’ sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
Juice of ½ lemon

Cream together cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl.
Slowly sift in confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fully incorporated. Mixture should be free of lumps.
Stir in vanilla and lemon juice.

Flaky Angel Biscuits

This recipe is wonderful for parties, because the dough can be made and kept, refrigerated for up to 2 weeks before your guests walk in the door. I roll it out on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, press out the shapes I want (at Thanksgiving, I usually use a 2½” acorn cookie cutter), pull away the scraps, and pop the cookie sheet straight into the oven. I re-roll the remaining scraps onto a second parchment-lined cookie sheet. It takes all of about 8 minutes to get these treats into the oven. And your kitchen smells divine as they bake! My sister-in-law found the recipe in the LA Times many years ago, and I have used it every year since.

5 c. flour, plus more for rolling (but only a little, if the dough is chilled)
8 t. baking powder
2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
3 T. sugar
¼ c. butter, chilled (I use unsalted)
½ c. shortening, chilled
5 t. dry yeast
½ c. warm water
1 ¾ – 2 c. buttermilk (warmed 1 min. in microwave)
¼ c. milk

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients (except yeast) and mix well. Cut in the butter and shortening with a pastry blender until butter and shortening are the size of small peas. Dissolve yeast in the water (ideally warmed to about 105-115° F), stir and allow to swell (about 6 mins.). Add yeast and buttermilk to dry ingredients, and toss with fork to blend and moisten, creating a soft dough.
Cover bowl and refrigerate at least 8 hrs. or overnight; dough can be kept in refrigerator up to 2 weeks.
To bake a few biscuits at a time, remove portion of dough. On lightly-floured surface, roll dough to thickness of 1”. Cut into similar-size rounds or wedges with knife or biscuit-cutter. Brush generously with milk.
Place on baking sheet. Bake at 425° F until lightly browned on top, 12 – 15 mins. (makes 24 – 2 ½ “ biscuits).

Buttermilk Peppercorn Dip

My sister-in-law paired this dip with homemade root chips once and I was hooked. Honestly, I don’t have her patience to make root chips, but I can do this dip! It’s really easy, especially paired with Trader Joe’s Vegetable Root Chips and simple crudités.  Thank you, Martha Stewart!

1 c. sour cream
2 T. nonfat buttermilk
1 t. coarsely ground mixed peppercorns (black, pink, green)
2 t. minced chives
1/2 t. finely chopped fresh thyme
1 large shallot, minced
1/2 t. salt

To make dip, combine sour cream, buttermilk, pepper, chives, thyme, shallot, and salt in a medium bowl, and stir well to combine. Set aside.

Hawaiian Dinner Party

Time flies – whether you’re having fun or not – so we might as well party! Ten years after I threw a luau to celebrate my husband’s 50th, it was time to celebrate another decade. What with kids and the economy, we haven’t gotten back to Paradise as often as we would like, so it seemed natural to try to rekindle some great memories right here at home. And so I planned another Hawaiian-themed party for my husband’s 60th; this time it was a smaller-scaled Hawaiian dinner party for just very close friends and family. But like the luau, it was delicious, and we all had a really lovely time.

My kids were too busy with school to help with invitations, and our guest list only required 14 invitations, so I did them myself:

Then I planned the menu, with a little (well, a lot of) inspiration from Roy Yamaguchi.  I used his book, Roy’s fish and seafood for the entree; and I used his Banana-Macadamia Nut Bread recipe for party favors, from Roy’s Feasts from Hawaii.   

A few days before the party day, I raided my old supplies of luau stuff to set up for the party. Beach sheets (subbed in for tablecloths), Hawaiian-inspired tumblers, umbrella picks, coconut candles, and of course, fresh tropical flowers from Island Florals, and we were ready.

E komo mai, aloha!

Hawaiian Dinner Party Menu

Mauna Kea Shrimp with Peanut Sauce
Buttermilk Peppercorn Dip with root chips and cruditées
Kalua Pork Sliders

Mesclun salad mix with macadamia-encrusted goat cheese, grilled skewered tropical fruits, and coconut balsamic vinaigrette, sprinkled with dried toasted coconut flakes

Crab and potato-crusted Ono with creamed spinach and carrot ribbons, and bacon
     (Potato-crusted chicken for non-fish eaters)
Taro bread

Carrot Cake
Coconut milk ice cream
Pineapple- and palm tree-shaped Shortbread Cookies

Pineapple Fizz Punch (with a pineapple juice ring)
Hawaiian Sun beverages
Iced tea
Tedeschi Vineyards wine
Kona coffee
Rejuvenation tea

Mauna Kea Shrimp with Peanut Sauce

Colorful, refreshing, and always a hit; this recipe comes from one of my stand-by Hawaiian cookbooks, Maui Cooks Again (by Gini Baldwin, Judy Bisgard, Judy Furtado, Zelie Harders, Carol Hartley, and Penny James).

1 lb. (about 20) medium shrimp, cleaned, deveined, and tail removed
1 t. salt
10 Chinese snow peas, blanched and split
1 small bunch mint
1 small bunch basil
1 small bunch cilantro
20 toothpicks

Cook shrimp in 1 qt. boiling water with 1 t. salt added until shrimp turn pink.
Immediately plunge shrimp into ice water. Drain and pat dry. On each shrimp, lay a mint leaf, cilantro sprig, and small basil leaf. Wrap each shrimp around the middle with a split snow pea pod and skewer with a toothpick. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with Peanut dip below.

Peanut Dip:
2 T. chunky peanut butter (use Jif or Skippy)
3 T. rice vinegar
¼ c. low-sodium soy sauce
1 T. sugar
2 t. lime juice
Few drops Tabasco sauce, to taste
1 clove garlic, finely minced

Place all ingredients in a blender or processor, blend until smooth. Adjust flavors as you like.

Makes almost 1 c. dip; I usually double or triple the recipe.