Coconut Bourbon Banana Bread

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I’m pretty sure that were this a legitimate food blog, the kind with paid advertisements and readership beyond friends and family and the odd instagram or pinterest searcher, I would have posts scheduled months in advance and planned to coincide with seasons and holidays. Instead, I’m realizing as I sit down to post this banana bread that Easter is in three days and I should probably be sharing a delicious brunch recipe. Not that you couldn’t serve this for Easter (because you definitely could), but it’s more of a it’s-raining-outside-and-I-have-rotting-bananas-sitting-on-my-counter-and-I’m-in-a-baking-mood activity than a holiday centerpiece. Luckily for all of you, I have no paid advertisers and am not that organized – so despite my best intentions I end up posting whatever I want, whenever I want. For example, I made this banana bread last fall (as evidenced by my dark red nail polish) and meant to post it back then, but it somehow got buried in my drafts folder. And when I discovered it there last night I decided I might as well just post it today. Though it may be sunny now, we all know the rain will be back soon enough. So even if you don’t make this between now and Sunday morning, bookmark it for the next gray day that coincides with rotting bananas.

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Deb has a “healthy” banana bread recipe on her site, which I’ve made quite a few times since she posted it two and a half years ago. I had been avoiding trying this one for fear I wouldn’t be able to go back – the healthy one is divine while still letting you feel at least a little healthy, so why introduce a richer version that makes no apologies for it’s butter and bourbon?  But with a bottle of Knob Creek calling my name from the pantry one afternoon, I decided to mix things up a little bit. I’m not sorry I did, because this one is really freaking good.  And while I’ll still use the healthy version most of the time, it’s never a bad idea to have something a little more exciting in your repertoire.

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One of my favorite things about Deb, besides the fact that I can always count on her recipes to be delicious, is that she writes them with the goal of using as few dishes as possible.  This is one-bowl banana bread (two, I suppose, if you count the pan or bowl you use to melt the butter): you just mash the bananas in your mixing bowl and then stir the other ingredients in. I added a cup of unsweetened coconut in at the end and I thought it made the bread even more amazing – but if you’re not a coconut fan or don’t have any on hand it would be equally yummy without it. You could also add chocolate chips (with or without the coconut), or crushed pineapple (also with or without the coconut, but probably not with the chocolate), or anything else you can dream up. But whatever you do, don’t leave out the bourbon.

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One year ago: Miraval’s Arugula Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette 
Two years ago: Jamie Oliver’s Eggplant Parmesan

Coconut Bourbon Banana Bread, (adapted) from Smitten Kitchen

3-4 ripe bananas
1/3 cup salted butter, melted
3/4 cup light brown sugar (or up to one cup if you prefer your banana bread extra sweet)
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional but highly recommended)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4-1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup coconut (optional; ideally unsweetened)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and butter (or oil or spray) a 8″x4″ loaf pan. Mash your bananas in a large mixing bowl and stir in the melted butter. Add sugar, then egg, then vanilla and bourbon, and then the spices.  Sprinkle the salt and baking soda over the mixture and stir to combine. Mix in the flour, and then the coconut (if using). Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean (mine always seem to take the full hour if not longer; if you use mini loaf pans start checking them at 40 minutes).

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Butternut Squash and Farro Salad

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I know that by February I’ll be longing for a warm and sunny October.  OK, by November (which is only 22 days away, eeeek!) I’ll probably be longing for a warm and sunny October.  But as of this week, when the 70+ degree temperatures are keeping me from my new fall wardrobe, I’m really ready for it to start feeling like fall.  I’ve dug all of my sweaters and boots out of the back of my closet(s), but it’s been t-shirt and flip flop weather all week (the things I find to complain about, I know). I’ve decided, however, that even if the forecast points to an Indian summer, the calendar says fall, so that’s what I’m going with.  I colored my hair dark this week (!!!), bought a flannel shirt that’s way too hot to wear anytime soon, and started in on the “fall recipes” on my to-do list. First up, this yummy butternut squash salad from Smitten Kitchen.

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Is there anything more “fall-ish” than butternut squash? (Is “fall-ish” even a word?) Well, there are probably lots of things, but butternut squash has got to be up there. After I made this salad, I found this one and kind of wished I had made it as well. If you’re really on top of life, you could prep a big batch of squash ahead of time and use it for both recipes (it will keep either raw or roasted in the fridge for a few days at least). You could throw it into a pasta dish, or into a green salad, or just eat it plain with parmesan like I’ve been doing a lot lately (yum).  But for now we’re talking farro, which is delicious (and pronounced FAR-ro, not FAIR-ro like a Pharaoh from ancient Egypt.  I may or may not have been mispronouncing this word for entirely too long, so just want to save you the embarrassment in case you’ve been making the same mistake). Deb explains the difference between pearled, semi-pearled, regular, etc., and the corresponding cooking times.  I just bought the Trader Joe’s “10 minute farro” and it was great (TJ’s FTW, as usual).

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My only other notes would be: (1) Deb recommends you pickle your onions for as close to 30 minutes as possible, but tells you that if you don’t have that much time less is ok too.  I’m sure she’s right, but as a raw-onion-hater I’ve found that the longer the onions are marinating, the less raw-onion-y they’ll taste. When I have time, I let mine sit in the fridge for an hour or two (fun tip: even soaking slices of red onion in plain ice water for a few minutes makes them taste a little more neutral).  Of course if raw onion hatred isn’t an issue for you, 30 minutes or less is fine.  (2) Sometimes ricotta salata can be hard to find – I’ve used feta in the past and it works just as well.  This is probably blasphemous to write on a food blog (however wannabe it may be), but I’m not entirely on the ricota salata train in the way that everyone else seems to be and I almost like it better with the feta. (3) Deb will tell you this as well, but this salad is super flexible – use any type of squash or roasted veggie in place of or along with the butternut, use rice/orzo/barley instead of farro, etc.  Although if you don’t have an aversion to anything in the recipe, I would encourage you to try it as written at least initially, as it really is delicious. Ratios are also flexible – I just used a whole squash, an entire (small) bag of farro, and then adjusted my toppings and seasonings accordingly.  (4) This salad is good at room temperature (i.e. when you’ve just finished making it and the squash and farro are still warm), but delicious chilled – it’s one of those salads that is really better the next day (especially if the next day is a little closer to sweater weather).

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Butternut Squash, previously: soup, baked pasta

Smitten Kitchen, previously: about every other recipe on this blog

Butternut Squash and Farro Salad, from Smitten Kitchen

1 medium butternut squash
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup farro
1/3 cup toasted, salted pepitas
3 ounces ricotta salata, crumbled or coarsely grated (or other salty cheese, such as feta)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

Prepare Squash: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Peel butternut squash and scrape out seeds. Cut squash into 1/2″-3/4″ cubes. Coat baking sheet (or sheets, if you have a large amount of squash) with olive oil, and then toss squash on the baking sheet with small amounts of olive oil, salt, and pepper until coated. Roast 30-40 minutes, or until squash is tender and starting to brown, tossing or stirring a couple times so that the pieces don’t stick.

Prepare Farro: According to package instructions.

Prepare Onions and Brine: Chop onion into small dice. In a small bowl, whisk together the sherry vinegar, water, sugar, and salt, until the sugar is dissolved. Add onion and stir to coat. The brine won’t cover the onions all the way, but that’s ok. Place onions (in brine) in the refrigerator while you wait for squash/farro to cook. Ideally they can chill for 30 minutes, but less time is ok.

In a large bowl, mix together farro, squash, onions (with brine), cheese, and pepitas. Add three tablespoons of olive oil. Taste, and add more oil, sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. Top with more cheese and/or pepitas if desired (I did). Salad is best chilled, and will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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Corn Risotto-Stuffed Poblano Peppers

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As I may have mentioned on this blog once or twice, Smitten Kitchen is one of my very favorite food blogs.  So when Deb (the author) published her first cookbook two years ago, I promptly purchased a copy (and a ticket to her book signing, which was amazing). I was so excited to get my hands on the book, and read it cover to cover the day I received it. I flagged all of the recipes I wanted to try – and there were a lot.  The book came out in late October, so the first thing I made was a pumpkin gingersnap tart (which was delicious, and which probably belongs on this blog). And then, of course, the cookbook went onto the book shelf and I forgot about so many of the things I wanted to make, including her corn risotto-stuffed poblano peppers (no idea where the hyphen(s) belong there, but that’s how Deb titled it so that’s what I’m going with).  I would pull the cookbook out and flip through it occasionally, but it never seemed like the right time to roast peppers and make risotto.  The other night, however, it was cold and rainy for the first time in awhile, and I was getting an early start on dinner, so all of the sudden it seemed like the stars aligned.

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Of course it turns out I didn’t start quite early enough, as this recipe takes a fair amount of time. But an 8:30 dinner never killed anyone, and the recipe only calls for half a cup of beer, which means you can drink the rest of the bottle (and perhaps even a second) while you roast/peel/chop/stir. One way to save time would be to go to the grocery store beforehand, as that part took me almost an hour (I’m a grocery store wanderer). You could do the peppers and/or the risotto ahead of time, and then just assemble and bake at dinner time. Lastly, Trader Joe’s pre-chopped onions would be a good time saver. I was too lazy to make an extra stop, but as my eyes were burning while I chopped the onion I wished I had made the effort (actual conversation with my sister this morning: me: “it’s really worth the extra stop at Trader Joe’s just for the chopped onions.” Her, emphatically: “it is always worth stopping at Trader Joe’s for at least 10-15 items you can’t get anywhere else.” Words to live by!). Frozen corn would save time as well, but the fresh is so good right now that it’s worth the extra couple minutes.

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If you’ve ever roasted or charred peppers before, you know it’s super easy. If you haven’t, it might seem a bit daunting, but let me assure you it is not. If you have a gas stove top you can put the peppers directly on the grill; if not, putting them under the broiler works just as well. After making these, my tip would be: make sure the skins get completely blackened and “blistered.” I was worried I was burning mine so took them off the flame too soon – the blackened skin came off easily, but any parts that were still green didn’t want to come off at all. Which isn’t the end of the world, but to the extent you want your peppers skinned, make sure you char the peppers as much as possible. The good news is you can mess up the charring or the skinning or the de-seeding (see above) and they will still turn out delicious (although spicier with the seeds in).

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On the few occasions I’ve made risotto I always wonder why I don’t make it more often – it’s so easy and sooo good. And then I remember it’s a huge bowl of refined carbs with cheese, so unless I’m running a marathon the next day it’s perhaps not the healthiest choice for a meal. But let’s ignore that for now – here it’s very portion controlled, and involves corn and peppers – which are vegetables!! – so it could be a lot worse. And I accidentally bought reduced fat monterey jack cheese and it was still delicious, so there are ways to cut the calories if you’re worried about it (which apparently I am not). Aside from the 40 minute time frame and the fact that you have to be stirring it pretty frequently, it’s quite simple. In fact, it sounds like I may have to take up marathon running, because I’m now totally on a risotto kick.

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Corn Risotto-Stuffed Poblano Peppers, from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Ingredients:
8 large fresh poblano peppers
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup Mexican beer
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 2 cobs), or 1 1/2 cups frozen and defrosted corn kernels
3/4 cup monterey jack cheese (I used well over a cup, oops!)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup crumbled queso fresco
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon milk (I used lime juice)
Fresh cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Prepare Peppers:
Place chiles directly onto gas burners and turn flame to high. Using tongs, rotate chiles frequently until their skins are blistered on all sides, about 4-6 minutes each. If you don’t have a gas stovetop, you can roast the chiles under the broiler (also turning frequently). Put blackened chiles in a bowl and cover tightly with saran wrap. NOTE: Deb says you can skip this step entirely if the skins don’t bother you.

Make Risotto:
In a medium saucepan, heat your stock to a low simmer. On a separate burner, heat a larger saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add olive oil and heat through. Add onion to hot oil and sauté until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook one minute longer. Add the rice to the pot and stir for a minute or two, until it becomes lightly toasted. Pour in the beer, scraping up any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan. Let the beer simmer for a minute or so, until it’s almost disappeared. Ladle one cup of warm stock into rice mixture and simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently. Add remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time, allowing stock to absorb before adding more, and stirring often. Along with the final addition of stock, add the corn. Total cooking time for the rice is about 30 minutes, after which it should be creamy and tender. Once all the stock and corn are added and stock is absorbed, stir in the monterey jack cheese and salt and pepper to taste (I found I needed a fair amount of salt and pepper, perhaps due to my low sodium chicken stock). Remove risotto from heat.

Assemble and Bake:
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Remove chiles from bowl and gently rub off the skins, which should remove easily. Cut a slit lengthwise in each chile and remove the seeds and membranes as best you can. Leave the stems on – they’re cute. Fill each chile with risotto and arrange stuffed chiles in a baking dish. Sprinkle with the queso fresco. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until top begins to brown.

To Serve:
In a small dish, whisk together the sour cream and milk (or lime juice) with a pinch of salt. Drizzle the mixture over the hot chiles. Garnish with cilantro.

Chocolate Chip Mint Brownie Ice Cream Sandwiches

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I saw these on my favorite blog a couple weeks ago, and obviously had to make them asap (I should really start to think about unsubscribing from all of these food blogs, as they make it pretty hard to stick to my diet “healthy eating lifestyle”).  I waited until I had a summer BBQ to attend, thinking they would be the perfect thing to bring.  I bet you guys can already see the issue, right? It’s a little embarrassing that I didn’t. As it turns out, ice cream + summer weather + car transport + rush hour = disaster (car transport alone was probably enough to seal their fate, but the 90 degree heat and traffic didn’t help).  Why didn’t I think to put them in a cooler? Unclear.

But here’s the thing, they were pretty melty to begin with. I debated even posting this recipe, because (a) do we really need a recipe for ice cream sandwiches? and also (b) because mine didn’t turn out that well. At least, at first. But as the saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed….try, try again.  And while I may not apply that mantra to any important areas of my life, of course I’m going to try again at brownie ice cream sandwiches.

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While a recipe for ice cream sandwiches is a little superfluous, a recipe for brownies is not. Deb’s brownies are the best – and so easy. Seven ingredients, at least six of which you probably already have in your fridge/pantry (I never seem to have baker’s chocolate, aside from the odd ounce I always have leftover from when I made these brownies the last time).  To make these ice cream sandwich-friendly, you just spread the batter into two layers, either in two 8×8 pans (ideal) or one 9×13 pan (which would also be fine). Secret option number three is to bake two batches in one 8×8 pan, if you can only find one, like me. It’s not the end of the world but next time I’ll use a 9×13, or look harder for my other brownie pan.

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The brownie part is easy (although I would note that these layers are pretty thin, so make sure to let them completely cool before handling, and even then be very careful.  I had the best luck when they were completely frozen). The tricky part is getting the ice cream to stay frozen. I considered glossing over my first attempt, but what is this blog if not an attempt to help you learn from my mistakes?

Deb says you can spread the ice cream over the first brownie layer, top it with the second brownie layer, freeze it for 30 minutes, and you’re good to go.  Perhaps she used better ice cream than me, or has a colder freezer.  But the below photos show my attempt and the sad, melty results.

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Frozen.

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Still frozen.

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Appears frozen-ish.

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Melty mess.  And this is before I had to put them in the car.

Needless to say, they arrived at the party looking less like ice cream sandwiches, and more like 32 thin brownie squares floating in a pool of mint green and vanilla swirled milk.  Tragic. But I made them again, and this time froze the ice cream all by itself in the 8×8 pan (lined with parchment) for a full 24 hours.  I cut the brownies and the ice cream separately and then put the sandwiches together and it worked perfectly. (When I cut the sandwiches the first time the ice cream oozed out – it probably would have been ok if the ice cream had been more frozen but I was afraid to try it out the second time.  Also I think if the sandwich was put together in the pan the cutting would go better as the ice cream wouldn’t have anywhere to go. If you try these at home, experiment and let me know how it goes).

Brownie Ice Cream Sandwiches, from Smitten Kitchen

For the brownies:
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour

For the filling:
2 to 3 cups ice cream (one quart or two pints)

Heat your oven to 350°F. Line two 8×8-inch square baking pans with parchment paper.  Spray parchment with a nonstick cooking spray (I like to spray the bottom of the pan first so that the parchment sticks/stays in place, then spray the parchment and sides of pan generously as well).

In a medium heatproof bowl over gently simmering water, heat chocolate and butter together until almost melted (you can also do this in the microwave – heat in short increments, stirring every 20-30 seconds or so). Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Stir in sugar until fully combined, then eggs, one at a time and then vanilla. Stir in salt until combined, then flour. Try not to over-mix.

Divide batter between two prepared pans and spread evenly — an offset spatula will make this easier. Bake on different racks for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating once top to bottom and front to back, until a toothpick inserted into the center of each pan comes out batter-free. Transfer hot pans directly to freezer (you can put down dish towels or a cooling rack to protect shelves). Chill until cold and firm, about 15 to 20 minutes.

<<This is where my instructions will differ from Deb’s – but I would encourage you to try it her way first if you want.  Especially if you don’t have to transport yours, or if you have the time and energy to do a trial run.  But I think my way is a little more foolproof, albeit not quite as seamless.>>

For sandwiches:
Once brownies have cooled, remove one of the brownie layers from the pan and store on a cookie sheet or cooling rack (these layers are pretty thin so they’ll break easily if they aren’t completely cooled or frozen – be careful!).  Wipe down the 8×8 pan and re-line with parchment (no spray needed this time).  Scoop your ice cream out into the pan, and use a spatula to “smoosh” it into a smooth layer. Cover with parchment and use the second brownie pan to weigh the ice cream down (if you used a 9×13 or only have one 8×8, like me, you can skip this step). Return the ice cream to the freezer and freeze as long as possible. Deb said she only needed 20 minutes – I gave mine over 24 hours and it still started to melt pretty quickly.

When you’re ready to make your sandwiches, cut both brownie layers into 16 squares.  Remove ice cream from the freezer, lift it (using the parchment sling) onto a cutting board, and quickly cut it into 16 squares as well. Make the sandwiches and return to the freezer to let them re-freeze a bit. You’ll want a cookie sheet or a 9×13 pan if you don’t have two 8×8 pans, as it would be tricky to squeeze them all back into one 8×8.

Friday Faves

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{road trip + mcdonald’s cone}

Happy Friday, everyone! Look at me, two blog posts in two days.  I’m pretty proud of myself! (Taking two months off creates a bit of a FF backlog, but I’m going to do my best to catch up over the next few weeks).  I hope everyone has exciting plans for the weekend.  I’m helping out at my family’s annual charity golf tournament tomorrow – the forecast is 97, so wish us all luck not dying of heatstroke.  I hope your plans involve a beach or a pool instead!

Some fun links to get you through your Friday:

  • Orange lipsticks – what are your thoughts? I went to Nordstrom the other night in search of the second one (the most neutral, obviously) but tragically it’s been discontinued.  I was already at the MAC counter so I tried on the first one just for fun, but of course it made me look like a clown.  And by clown I don’t just mean like someone wearing an absurd shade of orange lipstick, I mean like someone you would pay to come to your child’s birthday party wearing a rainbow-striped wig and make balloon animals. Yikes.
  • I would like one of these right this minute.
  • I’m working my way through Emily’s monthly beauty buys – so far I’m still on April, but I’m loving this series (I bet she gets all her products as gratis too, no fair).
  • I don’t think I’m as obsessed with Ryan Gosling as much as the average female between the ages of 15-50 (I’m too busy planning my future with this man), but I find all of this freaking out pretty hilarious.
  • How to Write a Wedding Speech – I wish every best man would read this!

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{my dear friend alison’s gorgeous pacific palisades wedding}

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{new favorite pinot}

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{and favorite party punch from pinot release party}

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{new favorite skincare product – thanks emily!}

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{cuddle time with my (current) favorite newborn, sweet greta jane}

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{and her adorable big brother with his birthday cupcake and his trucks}

Leek Bread Pudding + Coconut Loaf

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{Smitten Kitchen‘s Leek Bread Pudding}

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{Sprouted Kitchen‘s Coconut Loaf}

I’m not entirely sure that these two recipes go together, but they’ve both been on my “to make” list for awhile now and they’re both made in loaf pans, so I thought maybe they should share a post. They’d also both be excellent additions to your Easter brunch menu, if you’re looking for new ideas – so that’s three things they have in common. I’ve been meaning to try the leek bread pudding for literally years now, and it did not disappoint. I’ve made the coconut bread before, but I’ve been wanting to do it for the blog and I’m so glad I did because it was even better than I remembered. I’ve been trying to avoid wheat lately, but I splurged on a piece of this fresh from the oven last night and it was worth every bite.

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This bread pudding couldn’t be easier, as bread puddings go. Just cube your bread and stick it in the oven for about 20 minutes, and sauté your leeks while the bread is toasting. Deb suggests stale brioche, which I’m sure is ideal, but I used a loaf of fresh french bread and it worked just fine. The recipe calls for one cup of leeks, but I used closer to two and it was delicious – and next time I might even use more (I bought three leeks and only used two of them – I think I could have used the third and it would have been a welcome addition, although it was fine with just the two. Deb also suggests you could sauté any other veggies you like along with the leeks and add them in as well).

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Layer your toasted bread cubes and leeks with cheese, pour a custard over it, and it’s ready to go into the oven. Again, the recipe calls for small amounts of chives and thyme; next time I’ll probably use more – although it was delicious as is. Deb noted that you could add more cheese as well, so of course I stirred a little grated parmesan in with my eggs and milk. It didn’t need it but of course it didn’t hurt.

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An hour later, you have a toasty, bubbling casserole that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Breakfast: warm, perhaps with an egg or bacon on top (not me personally – gross! – but others might like it that way); lunch: cold, with a crisp green salad; dinner: alongside a roasted chicken breast or something of that nature. I think it’s adorable in the loaf pan, but you could double the recipe and it would work in a 9″ X 13″ casserole dish (that’s my plan for Easter brunch). Savory bread pudding, who knew?

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And then, if you’re in the mood for something sweet, this divine coconut loaf from one of my favorite cookbooks. I love the Sprouted Kitchen blog, of course, but her cookbook is really worth getting as every recipe I’ve tried from it has been to die for.  As I’ve mentioned here many times already, I love anything with coconut,  so of course this bread is a safe bet – coconut flakes, coconut oil, and coconut milk.  I would call this recipe “healthy-ish” – it’s still a loaf of bread, and it still has sugar in it, but there’s enough whole wheat flour, coconut oil, and lack of white sugar and butter that I feel ok about eating it. I was calling it vegan until I remembered it has eggs in it (duh!), but it is dairy free.

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Again, super easy. Toast your coconut, combine your dry ingredients and your wet ones, and stir them together – two bowls, one spoon (ok, I used a spoon and a whisk), no mixer, easy cleanup. So much fun to stir cake batter with a spoon, I felt like a pioneer woman.  Is this how our grandmothers did things all those years?

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When I’ve made this recipe before I’ve never bothered with the glaze, but I did it just for blog purposes and was prepared to tell you you could skip this step – but it turns out the glaze is delicious. It adds a little extra sweetness and moisture to the cake, which isn’t necessarily needed but I appreciated it. Sara suggests serving the cake with fresh blackberries; I used strawberries here and it was SUCH a good combination. This is also something that could be served as breakfast or dessert (or perhaps just a snack!) – which I guess means it has more in common with the bread pudding than I initially thought. (Note: if you aren’t serving the cake warm from the oven, Sara suggests you toast your slices under the broiler for a minute or two).

One year ago: Chicken Pot Pie (two ways) and Chocolate Pudding

Leek Bread Pudding, from Smitten Kitchen via Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home

Yield: 6 servings (as a side dish)

1 cup leeks (or more to taste), white and light green parts only, cleaned and rinsed, and cut into 1/2″ thick slices
Kosher (or coarse) salt
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups 1″ cubed crustless brioche or other bread (about one loaf)
2 teaspoons chives, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3 cups whole milk, heavy cream, or half-and-half (or a combination thereof – I used 2 cups whole milk and one cup half and half)
Freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup shredded Comté, Emmanthaler or Swiss cheese (I used Gruyère and a little extra Parmesan)

Place a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, drain excess water from leeks, and add to pan. Season with salt, and sauté until leeks begin to soften, about 5 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in butter. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are very soft, about 20 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While leeks are cooking, spread bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake until dry and pale gold, about 15 to 20 minutes, turning pan about halfway through. Transfer to a large bowl, leaving the oven on.

Add leeks, chives, and thyme to the bowl of bread and toss well. In another large bowl, lightly whisk the egg and egg yolks, then whisk in milk or cream, a generous pinch of salt, pepper to taste, and a pinch of nutmeg.

Sprinkle two tablespoons shredded cheese in the bottom of a buttered 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Spread 1/2 of bread mixture in pan, and sprinkle with another two tablespoons cheese. Spread remaining bread mixture in pan, and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup cheese. Pour in enough milk mixture to cover bread, and gently press on bread so milk soaks in. Let rest 15 minutes.

Add remaining milk mixture, letting some bread cubes protrude. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until pudding is set and top is brown and bubbling, about 55 to 65 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

Coconut Loaf, from The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook

Yield: 6-8 slices

1/4 cup extra-virgin coconut oil, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut (I used flaked)
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk (I used light)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup organic powdered sugar, or more as needed
Berries, for garnish

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease an 8 1/2″ loaf pan with a thin coat of coconut oil.

Spread the shredded coconut on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven until just golden brown, about four minutes.  Watch it carefully, as it can burn quickly. Set aside 1/2 cup for topping the loaf.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of the toasted coconut and the turbinado sugar.  Sift the flours, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and stir to combine.  In another bowl, whisk the eggs together, then whisk in one cup of the coconut milk, the coconut oil, and the vanilla.   Gently stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined.  Pour the mixture into the loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, 45-50 minutes (mine took 55). Remove loaf from the oven and let cool to room temperature.

While the loaf is cooling, combine 1/4 cup of the remaining coconut milk and the powdered sugar in a bowl and whisk until there are no clumps. Add more sugar or more coconut milk to taste, depending on the consistency you prefer (you won’t use the entire can of coconut milk). Pour the glaze over the cooled cake and sprinkle the remaining toasted coconut on top.  Cut into slices (wait for the loaf to fully cool or your slices will crumble).  Toast each slice, if you like.  Serve with a handful of fresh berries.  YUM!!

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Friday Faves

TGIF, everyone! It’s a week before Valentine’s Day, and I have yet to do or make anything fun and festive. This week was taken up by post-Superbowl celebrations, including the parade (of course).  We spent four glorious hours in the freezing cold to cheer on our Superbowl champs, and now I have the cold to prove it.  Hopefully I’ll have my act together in time for next Friday – I have two types of brownies and two types of cookies on my to do list, and I’m going to be at a bachelorette party all weekend, so wish me luck!

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Last year’s Valentines brownies and cookies.

‘Tis the season for gifting flowers.

Dying to try these Nutella cookies.

This website will make sending Valentine’s cards so much easier.

Great idea for a Valentine’s gift.

Love this lip crayon in Roman Holiday.

I just downloaded this book – can’t wait to read it.

And my favorite images of the week:

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Happy Friday, guys! Happy (early) Valentine’s Day, and Go Hawks!!

Coconut Tapioca Pudding with Mango

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I realize tapioca pudding isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve always loved it. We didn’t get a lot of sweets growing up, but my mom used to make tapioca pudding on occasion, so I associate it with a childhood treat the way that most people probably think of chocolate chip cookies. I hadn’t thought about it years, though, until I saw this recipe pop up on my favorite blog a few weeks ago. Coconut and mango are two weaknesses of mine,  and while I’d prefer to eat them (or drink them) on a beach in Hawaii, this is the perfect consolation prize while we’re stuck in the freezing cold continental U.S.

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Tapioca pudding is easy to make, but it does require a bit of advance planning, as the tapioca needs to soak for 30 minutes before cooking and then the pudding needs to be chilled for at least a few hours. The actual cooking time, though, is only about 20 minutes.  I included an extra step (based on Deb’s suggestion and the directions on the bag of tapioca) and added egg whites – the recipe calls for one egg yolk, but you can save the white, whip it with a tiny bit of sugar, and then add it back into the pudding at the end in order to make the pudding a little lighter.  Just make sure to temper the egg white by spooning a bit of the hot pudding into the egg and mixing it up before adding the egg white mixture to the pudding.  Cook pudding for two minutes longer once the egg white is added. I loved the way the pudding turned out with the egg whites, but you could skip this step and just have a firmer, more jello-esque pudding.

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I love the mango topping here, but you could use strawberry purée too (it would be good with lime juice or lemon, or just plain), or any fruit you like, really. It would also be just fine on its own. Toast your coconut, whip your cream, and you have a delicious tropical dessert that will make you feel like you’re in the islands (and it’s dairy-free!).

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Coconut, previously: granola, cupcakes, cookies, soup

Mango, previously: salsa

Pudding, previously: chocolate

Coconut Tapioca Pudding with Mango, from Smitten Kitchen 

Serves Six (I doubled the recipe)

for the pudding: 
1/3 cup small pearl tapioca
2 1/2 cups coconut milk (I used light)
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg yolk (and white, optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the mango purée: 

1  ripe mango, peeled, pitted and roughly chopped
juice of one lime

optional garnishes:
whipped coconut cream
toasted coconut flakes
lime zest

make pudding: in a medium saucepan, soak tapioca in coconut milk for 30 minutes. Whisk in egg yolk, sugar, and salt.  Heat the mixture over medium heat until it comes to a simmer, then reduce heat to low so that the pudding is barely bubbling.  Cook until pudding thickens, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract.  Pour into pudding cups to chill for several hours or overnight.

make mango purée: purée mango with lime juice in a blender or food processor; add a little sugar to taste (optional, my mango was pretty sweet and I didn’t need any).  I did this step the night before and the purée was in good shape 24 hours later.

toast coconut: on a parchment-lined baking sheet or jelly roll pan for 5 minutes at 350 degrees F.  Stir halfway through so that the coconut browns evenly; watch closely so that it doesn’t burn.

whip coconut cream: put a can of full fat coconut milk in the fridge the night before you plan to make the cream.  Deb brilliantly suggests turning it upside down, so that when you then open the can from the top you can pour the water right out (the cream will rise to the “top” when chilled).  Beat the coconut cream as you would whipping cream, in a chilled metal bowl and with chilled beaters; add small amount of granulated sugar to taste.  (Note: I used light coconut milk and still got a good amount of cream after chilling it overnight; I’m sure full fat would be even more delicious but mine turned out pretty yummy).

to serve: top pudding with mango; garnish with coconut cream, toasted coconut, and/or lime zest.

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Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Gratin

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I realize that by this point most of you already know exactly what you’ll be making for dinner this Thursday – whether you’re in charge of an entire Thanksgiving meal for 20, or just picking up a pie on your way to dinner. But in case anyone is in need of last minute ideas for sweet potatoes or veggies (I think this dish could fall into either category), I wanted to post this gratin that I made for a “practice Thanksgiving” a couple weeks ago. It’s from Smitten Kitchen, again – I promise that after this I really am going to start getting more creative with the blogs I copy recipes I share. I’ve been wanting to try this for the past few years, however, and since I finally made it, I thought it might inspire the few of you that are still looking for inspiration.

Full disclosure, I’m still debating what I’m going to be making – and I have to start grocery shopping tonight. As much as I love the old school sweet potatoes with brown sugar and marshmallows, about 90% of my relatives prefer a savory sweet potato dish like this one, so I’m going to be making a couple different casseroles (Grandma and I need our marshmallows!). Another favorite is this scalloped sweet potato and yukon gold casserole, which people go nuts for. If anyone has a favorite sweet potato recipe, sweet or savory, I would love to hear it in the comments.

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My mandoline will be a year old tomorrow – it was a birthday gift last year and I love it even more now than I did when I received it. It makes the thought of potato casseroles for 45 so much less daunting.

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The swiss chard is a pain to prep (wash, de-stem, chop), and made even more complicated because this recipe calls for the stems to be used as well – just separated from the leaves as they have to cook longer. They’re good for us, though, and if you use rainbow chard it looks so pretty!! I’m thinking of subbing spinach when I make it this time, just to save myself about three hours of chopping and stemming effort. You could use any green you like, I think – my friend Kirsten tried it with collard greens, which is even more Thanksgiving-y.

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But the rainbow chard stems are really pretty – and surprisingly delicious.

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Simply sauté the chard stems with a little diced onion, then add the greens, which will cook down significantly (I cut this recipe in half when I made it for practice Thanksgiving, and the raw chard filled my 5 quart Dutch oven; once cooked it was barely two cups of greens).

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A pile of grated Gruyère always makes me happy.  This is probably more than the recipe called for, oops! Five ounces, eight ounces, who’s counting? Not me.  It is Thanksgiving, after all.

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Layer: potatoes, herbs, cheese, chard, béchamel; repeat.  I’m starting to get concerned that all of my grocery stores are going to be out of fresh thyme again – I feel like it happens every year, and every year I swear I’m going to stock up ahead of time – and then forget to do so.  I couldn’t find fresh thyme when I made this the other week, so I just used dried (with fresh parsley) – but I bet it will be even better with the fresh thyme that I’m hopefully going to find tonight (fingers crossed).

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A little more cheese, and it’s all ready for the oven.  SK says (and I hope she’s right!!) that this can be prepped ahead of time, and just baked on Thursday, or fully baked ahead of time and then re-heated before your meal, assuming you have oven space.  Oven space is a hot commodity when you have a large group in a non-commercial kitchen, so neither option is ideal for me, but I’m just going to worry about that on Thursday.  The good news is a gratin will stay pretty hot.

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Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Gratin, from Smitten Kitchen

Serves 12

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 lbs swiss chard, leaves and stems separated and both cut into one-inch pieces
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups heavy cream or whole milk
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons flour
2 lbs medium sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick rounds
1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
Fine sea salt
Freshly grated black pepper
1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) coarsely grated Gruyère cheese

Prep greens: cook onion in two tablespoons butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Add chard stems, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, until vegetables are browned, about 8 minutes. Increase heat to moderately high and add chard leaves by large handfuls, stirring, until all greens are wilted. Season with salt and pepper and then transfer to a colander and press out liquid with a rubber spatula or large spoon.

Make sauce: combine cream or milk and garlic in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer; keep warm. Melt two tablespoons butter in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat and stir in the flour. Cook roux, whisking, for one minute, then slowly whisk in cream/milk and bring to an almost-boil, whisking constantly, for one minute longer. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Assemble gratin: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 9 x 13 baking dish. Spread half of the sweet potatoes in the prepared dish and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a quarter of the herbs and a quarter of the cheese. Distribute half the greens mixture over the cheese, then sprinkle salt, pepper, a quarter of the herbs and a quarter of the cheese over that. Pour half of the bechamel sauce over the first two layers and then continue with the remaining sweet potatoes, more salt, pepper, herbs, and cheese, and then the remaining chard mixture, salt, pepper, and herbs. Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the gratin and then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake gratin: bake the gratin for about one hour, until golden, bubbly, and most of the liquid is absorbed. Let stand for ten minutes before serving.

Do ahead: you can make the entire gratin but not bake it up to a day in advance (just store it in the fridge). You can also make and bake it in advance, and reheat it, though it will take almost as long to reheat as they do to bake in the first place.

Crunchy Baked Pasta with Sausage (or Squash) and Greens

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I made this recipe for the first time when I was staying with friends in Boston last month, and it was both simple and delicious. As such, I made it a second time last weekend, when my parents hosted 40 people at their home for my grandparents’ birthday party (yes, they were born a day apart and thus share their party every year). It’s the perfect meal for anything from an intimate dinner to a large group, as it you can do it ahead of time and its easy to serve, but it still seems a little fancier than a lasagna or boring casserole-type dish.

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I found broccoli rabe without incident the first time, but not the second – so when I quadrupled the recipe for the birthday party I used swiss chard instead. Both were great, but Smitten Kitchen suggests regular broccoli or brocolini if you can’t find rabe; I would think any hearty green would work as well (next time I might try kale). The only time consuming part of the dish is stemming and chopping the broccoli rabe/chard, everything else is pretty quick and easy.

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When I made it the first time, I followed the recipe exactly, except that I only added sausage to half (recipe makes one 9 x 13 casserole, but can easily be split into two 8 x 8s). SK lists proportions for a “light” amount of sauce, and recommends you multiply them by 1.5 for a “heavier” sauced dish. I did that, and did not find it overly saucy at all, so that’s what I list below as I really can’t imagine less sauce would be enough. But I suppose its all personal preference – you can check out her version in the link. I also found the original version to be pretty garlicky, although I don’t love garlic so it could be just me. Regardless, when I made it a second time I roasted the garlic (a whole head, drizzled in olive oil and wrapped in foil, at 400 degrees for about half an hour). I then used the same number of cloves called for (3 per batch), and found the garlic flavor to be much more subtle. Again, just personal preference. My friend Lindsay made this the other night and added minced garlic in with the sausage when she cooked it – same idea.

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Finally, when I made four batches for the party, I did four separate casseroles so that I could accommodate as many preferences as possible – three different types of sausage (sweet, spicy, and chicken) and then one vegetarian. When I had the vegetarian version in Boston I really thought it could use something, so this time I roasted a butternut squash. SK suggests mushrooms would be another good alternative – but the squash got rave reviews even from the meat eaters, and seems pretty perfect for this time of year.

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Crunchy Baked Pasta with Sausage (or Squash) and Greens, adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Pasta and Assembly
1 lb. campanelle, or any chunky pasta you like
1 bundle broccoli rabe, swiss chard, or green of your choice (the greens will cook down a lot, so what looks like a ton raw ends up being not that much)
1 lb. Italian sausage (sweet or spicy pork or chicken), casings removed (or one butternut squash)
1 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes

Béchamel Sauce
3 cups whole milk (I used half whole and half 2% the second time and found it to be a little less rich – in a good way)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/8 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste (I used a lot)
3 cloves garlic, minced – if roasted, I just gave them a rough smash and chop
Small sprinkle of nutmeg

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions, add broccoli rabe five minutes before pasta is to be finished (if using chard, wait until two minutes before cooking time is up; if using another green, you’ll want it to cook for a lesser time the more delicate it is, or longer the heartier it is – i.e. broccoli would also be five minutes, spinach would be one minute). Drain pasta and greens and set aside in a large bowl.

Brown your sausage in a small amount of olive oil. If you’re making the vegetarian version, peel, seed, and dice a medium-sized butternut squash. You can buy it pre-chopped almost anywhere, but its kind of fun to do it yourself and it really doesn’t take much time. Toss it with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and roast on a well-greased (or parchment-lined) baking sheet at 400 degrees for about half an hour, turning once or twice. If it gets a little crispy, like mine did (as evidenced in the photo above), that’s ok. Either the sausage or the squash can be done ahead of time, and it will make putting the casserole together that much quicker.

To make the béchamel, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour and stir until smooth, then cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Add a small amount of the milk and whisk until combined. Continue to add milk in very small amounts, whisking the whole time – this is where a plastic, flat-bottomed whisk comes in really handy. Once about half of the milk is added and combined, you can add the other half more quickly. Once all the milk is added and the mixture is smooth, add salt, pepper, garlic, and nutmeg and let simmer for about ten minutes (I always worry that mine won’t thicken properly, and thus turn the burner up for about a minute before I turn it down to simmer – no idea if it helps or not but it makes me feel better – regardless, do that at your own risk). Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Finally, add mozzarella, half the parmesan, sausage (or squash), and béchamel to the bowl with the pasta and greens; toss to coat everything with the sauce. Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13 or 3-quart casserole dish, sprinkle the remaining parmesan on top of the pasta, and bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes.

Bon Appétit!