Roasted Banana Cream Pie

A seemingly endless state legislative session, a crawling infant, and a defunct computer have all conspired against me and this blog. But now that we have a new computer, I can now happily write a post for this long neglected blog. I was about to post a piece on a tofu and noodle dish, but the temporary return of my interest and energy in blogging is for me at least, a cause for celebration and what is there in life worth celebrating unless there’s pie?

The pie here is banana cream. Although bananas are my least favorite fruit, I have a deep, dark love for banana cream pie. When I was little, my mom once bought me a banana cream pie for my birthday instead of a cake. Normally when I tell people that story, they oddly feel sorry for me but I was not a disappointed 6-year-old. Not at all. I can only guess it’s because banana aside, banana cream pie has some of my favorite things from when I was little– vanilla pudding and whipped cream. I remember always asking for vanilla pudding cups when I was a kid and as for whipped cream, well even as an adult, I could honestly sit down with a giant bowl full of it and a spoon and be deliriously happy.

So I made a banana cream pie to satisfy a craving for one. This pie, however, is not your regular banana pudding in pie form banana cream pie. This one has a thick but quick pastry cream, rich with vanilla, and is layered with a puree of roasted bananas to intensify the banana flavor. I also added layers of firm, under-ripe banana slices for texture. Finally, the whole pie is frosted with whipped cream and sprinkled with toasted almond slices for a little crunch. It’s perfect when you cut a slice and eat it with a tall glass of cold milk. I doubt anyone would feel sorry for you if you had this instead of cake for your birthday.

  • Your favorite pie crust, pre-baked. I used a half portion of the baked flaky pastry recipe from The Joy of Cooking.
  • 3 ripe, on the verge of overripe, medium bananas.
  • 2-3 under-ripe (some yellow but spots of green) bananas.
  • 1 box (3.4 oz) instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 4 cups heavy cream, separated
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, separated
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Place the ripe bananas on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until banana peels are a deep, dark brown. Let bananas cool enough to touch then using a paring knife, split the bananas lengthwise and scoop the flesh into a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Puree until smooth. Set aside.

Make the pastry cream by making the pudding according to package directions, only using cold heavy cream instead of milk and adding a teaspoon of vanilla. Chill until set. While pastry cream sets, slice the under-ripe bananas into 1/4 inch thick rounds.

Assemble the pie by spreading half of the roasted banana puree on the bottom of a cooled, prepared crust. Top with half of the pastry cream. Spread the remaining banana puree on top of the pastry cream and cover with a single layer of banana slices. Top with remaining pastry cream then cover with plastic wrap and set pie in the fridge to chill and set for at least an hour. Right before serving, whip the remaining 2 cups of heavy cream with an electric mixer. Let the mixer go for about a minute on medium speed before adding the sugar and remaining teaspoon of vanilla then crank the mixer up to medium high speed. Whip until you have peaks that hold their shape when you lift up the beaters, about 3-4 minutes. Spread an inch thick layer of whipped cream over the pie. If you want to get fancy, you can put some of the whipped cream in a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and make curls around the border of the pie. (See my sloppy attempt in the picture above, but hey! I’m a lobbyist not a pie decorator!) Set a circle of banana slices around the edge of the pie then place 2-3 slices in the center. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve.

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Chocolate Chip Cherry Pecan Cookies

Last month, John and I went on our first obligatory parental trip– a visit to the pumpkin patch. Ok, I can’t quite claim that it was solely for the benefit of the baby given that she’s still too little to enjoy the children’s activities and spent most of the time asleep in the baby carrier. Besides, we had fun hanging out with friends and their toddlers, not to mention the freshly fried ginger cardamom donuts and warm apple cider made the trip worth it on their own.

We wimped out of trudging through the mud puddle minefield to choose pumpkins from the actual patch and opted to get our jack o’ lantern pumpkins from the clean and tidy, pre-harvested pumpkin section next to the little shop that sells apple butter and puffed corn nuggets. Then we headed into town and had lunch at a bakery with our friends and their 2-year-old daughter. The bakery was cozy on such a grey, cold, autumn day, the sandwiches were delicious, and I behaved myself by refraining from buying the large chocolate chip, cherry oatmeal cookies that were otherwise calling my name.

John and I took a walk around town before heading back home, visiting antique shops where I flipped through vintage posters with the hopes of finding something to decorate my office at work as a means of distracting me from going back and buying those cookies. It worked to a degree, and we made our way back home where I continued to fantasize about chocolate chip, cherry oatmeal cookies until finally, I made a batch of my own.

My goal was to elevate your typical oatmeal, chocolate chip raisin cookie by adding chopped, buttery, toasted pecans, and tart dried cherries. I envisioned a cookie with crispy edges and chewy centers, but instead, I ended up with soft nuggets chocked full of cherries, pecans, and bittersweet chocolate. Not what I had pictured, but still decidedly delicious and definitely worth jotting down so I can make them again. These cookies scream fall to me, so if they’re calling your name, don’t resist it and feel free to make them!

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed, light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1.25 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 cup dried cherries, chopped
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecan halves, toasted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a standing mixer bowl, beat together butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in eggs, vanilla and almond extracts. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, oatmeal, and spices. Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the butter mixture by adding 1/3 of the dry mixture at a time, beating until combined before adding next portion. Mix in the cherries, chocolate chips, and pecan pieces. Using a standard 2 teaspoon cookie measure, scoop out mounds of dough and quickly roll into a uniform ball before setting down on the baking sheet, about 1 to 2 inches apart. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until brown at edges. Let cookies rest on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

Makes 30 cookies.

Grilled Nectarines with Cinnamon Mascarpone

Last year, our CSA added fruit shares to their stock of available produce deliveries. Like a crack dealer, they included some cherries and these beautiful little miracles called donut peaches in a couple of our regular vegetable shares to tantalize us and get us hooked. We somehow managed to resist adding a fruit share until this summer. After seeing email notifications that shares included apples, berries, nectarines, cherries, and those delicious donut peaches, we caved and added a fruit share mid-season. As with all things that are or are not newsworthy, I posted the news to Facebook and received the following, lovely quote from my friend Thom who said he’d look forward to seeing what I do with our fruit share on this blog:

“I love working with what nature hands me as opposed to forcing nature’s hand to give me exactly what I want! It’s an adventure.”

That pretty much sums up what I’m trying to do here, so in exchange for this quote, Thom– this post is for you.

Well so far, in the two shares we’ve received, there hasn’t been a ton of variety, mostly nectarines and peaches. But this isn’t a complaint mind you– each piece of fruit has been sweet, juicy, and delicious. I welcomed downing those donut peaches even more during the days of hot (for Seattle) 80 degree weather we had last week. Also in town last week? Lots of family, mostly in-laws, here to officially meet the baby at her Chinese One Month party (held a month late.) We had so much fun spending time with family and were especially grateful for all the offers to babysit, particularly from Jane who claimed she didn’t mind since she missed her own grandchildren. Although Jane and my father-in-law offered to babysit one more time on Monday night, John and I opted to thank them and spend time with them instead by making dinner. A last-minute affair, I grabbed what looked good for entrees and sides from the store and from our fridge, then John panicked that we didn’t really have anything for dessert. That’s when I spied the CSA nectarines that had otherwise been neglected by the showier peaches. Since we were firing up the grill for steaks and sides, why not grill the nectarines too?

I split the nectarines in half and removed the pits then lightly brushed them with neutral flavored canola oil. To help them caramelize and add flavor, I sprinkled them with a mix of brown sugar and cinnamon. They went on the grill while we finished up dinner until they were all sweet, warm and gooey. It seemed a shame not to pair them with something cool and creamy, so I topped them with dollops of mascarpone cheese that was flavored with more of the cinnamon sugar combo along with a tiny splash of almond extract. As a finishing touch, I added crushed amaretti cookies, giving some nice crunch and added sweetness. Slightly sticky, sweet, and spicy, this was a light but flavorful summer dessert, perfect for the cooler but still summery weather we had the other night.

  • 1.5 lbs (or 4 medium) nectarines, split in half and pit removed
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 6-7 amaretti cookies

Heat grill, setting coals to one side so that there is both direct and indirect heat. Brush flesh side of each nectarine half with oil. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl then sprinkle half of the mixture on the nectarines. Grill over direct heat for 1-2 minutes or until grill marks form then remove to cooler, indirect heat. Cover grill and cook until nectarines are cooked through and soft, about 5-10 minutes. While nectarines finish cooking, combine mascarpone cheese with remaining sugar mixture and almond extract. Place cookies in a small plastic bag and lightly crush with a rolling pin. Plate dessert by placing two nectarine halves in a bowl then top with a 2 tablespoons of mascarpone cheese mixture and a sprinkle of cookie crumbles.

Serves 4

CSA Count: 1

Nectarines

Blueberry Lavender Pie

If there’s one flavor trend that I don’t get, it’s lavender. The polite way would be to say that it tastes like soap; however, I prefer saying that it tastes like old lady. Does that make you gag? Well, that’s what the taste of lavender normally does to me.

Which is why whenever our CSA includes a bunch of lavender in our share box, I groan. If there’s one thing we don’t need, it’s lavender. Aside from the fact that I’m not a fan of the flavor, we’ve got metric buttloads of it growing around our house. (An aside, should any neighbors be reading this: you know who you are, the one who snips our tulips that border the sidewalk. Please leave the tulips alone, but feel free to harvest as much lavender as you like.) We usually end up putting it in a vase with flowers or drying them out. In fact, I ended up making a mess recently while trying to empty out a vase to make room for some lovely CSA flowers since I had to throw out some dried lavender. Out of 6 vases in our house, 4 of them were filled with dried lavender at one point.

But my feelings about lavender changed recently, thanks to my sister-in-law who gave us a gift of blueberry lavender jam when my brother and his family visited us the weekend after our baby was born. Although sleep-deprived, John and I had a quiet breakfast of eggs and biscuits on which we cautiously dabbled the jam. It was so delicious, what with the lavender being subtle, a light floral complement to the sweet berries and a heady, spicy flavor from cinnamon.

So when lavender arrived in the CSA share box later that week, I wasn’t as horrified as I normally would be. I got excited, thinking about making a blueberry pie, only this time, instead of plainly (but lovely) flavored with lemon zest and almond extract, I’d try adding lavender and some spicier, heavier, and fruitier flavors: cinnamon, cardamom, and balsamic vinegar. Let me tell you, this was no sleep deprivation induced mistake but a beautiful concept! The pie was nicely balanced between sweet and tart, and in fact was declared by John to be my best blueberry pie ever. No more dried bunches of lavender to make messes around our house now! From now on, when the life gives me lavender, I’m making pie.

  • 1 recipe of your favorite double pie crust (or do store-bought, if you wish.)
  • 5 cups blueberries
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dried lavender leaves
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, finely diced

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Spray your 9 inch pie plate with cooking spray, then roll out a little more than half of your pie crust. Trim excess and flute the crust if you wish. Place in fridge while you mix together filling. Add blueberries to a large bowl. Combine the rest of the ingredients except butter and vinegar in a small bowl then mix into blueberries. Add the vinegar and mix again, then let blueberries sit for 15 minutes. Pour filling into pie crust then top with remaining crust, making a lattice if you wish. Lightly cover crust with a piece of foil or pie shield then bake on a rack placed in the bottom third of your oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F, remove foil or pie shield, and slide a baking sheet under your pie to collect any juices. Bake for another 30-45 minutes or until top crust is golden. Cool on a wire rack then serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

CSA Count: 1

Lavender

Fig Polenta Cake (and Belated Unchained Anniversary)

Blogging here may be sporadic from now on, but for very good reason, especially when I think about why I started this blog a little over two years ago on July 8, 2009. Back then, I was studying for the Washington State Bar exam and reeling from the news that I’d had a spontaneous miscarriage, a second miscarriage in a single year. Cooking was a beautiful outlet from all the sadness and stress in my life at the time, and sharing my ideas in a format that allowed me to talk about food memories and happier moments in my life was a form of healthy coping. Two years later, my life has a new stressful undertaking, but a beautiful one. Early Tuesday morning, after 15 hours of labor and another 8 hours of induction, my husband and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into this world.

Despite the exhaustion of being in the hospital for 4 days, running on less than 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep per day, and dealing with the ups and downs of trying to maintain healthy input and output of a newborn, I found myself on Thursday afternoon (our first full day at home with the baby) running on a huge adrenaline high. I just felt extremely energetic, perhaps because of the combination of being in surprisingly little pain post-partum and having lots of welcomed help with meals supplied by my parents. John and I went for our first walk outside with the baby to pick up our CSA share, and we talked about what to do with the flat plus 2 pints of strawberries we knew we’d be receiving. I wanted to make this strawberry summer cake, a late pregnancy favorite, but John suggested baking a tribute to that cake: making this olive oil polenta cake I had made last year (but failed to blog) and baking the fresh figs into the cake. We could then top the cake with tons of ripe, ruby-red strawberries.

I eagerly ran to my yarn stash– I’d developed a habit last year of writing down measurements used when experimenting in baking so I could give more accurate instructions when blogging, and those notes tended to be stuffed hastily into a yarn drawer where I kept scrap pieces of paper (I’m not very well-organized.) We’d cleaned out that set of drawers to use it as a diaper station in the baby’s nursery, and apparently in the cleaning out, I’d lost my notes on that cake. I had to start thinking about ingredients and process from scratch.

Wanting to Facebook about something other than the baby, I posted as my status that I was going to find time and energy to reinvent that polenta cake. This was then met with a flurry of comments from friends and family asking if I was delirious and instructing me to go to sleep at once. Despite the well-wishes, I gave into the adrenaline high and decided to go ahead and bake the cake thinking I’d never find this energy again, not while we had access to both fresh figs and beautiful strawberries.

So I mixed together flour with coarse cornmeal, egg yolks with olive oil, flavored things with lemon zest and almond extract, and whipped separated egg whites to try to lighten the cake that would otherwise be dense from the olive oil and cornmeal. I had a pasty batter which I spread out in a buttered cake pan and carefully pressed quartered figs into the lemony yellow batter. A sprinkle of sugar on top was added with the hope that this might help caramelize the figs. Once the cake had finished baking, I promptly crashed out of my adrenaline high and barely finished dinner with my eyes still open.

We waited to cut into the cake until last night when my brother and his family, along with an uncle and my parents joined us for dinner. The cake itself is a little too heavy in olive oil flavor for me, and is still really dense– moist in the center with soft, slightly jammy figs, crusty and a little dry on the edges, and overall, is almost savory rather than super sweet. But add the strawberries? Pretty awesome, unless sleep deprivation is altering my palate. The strawberries draw out more sweetness from the cake and pair beautifully in texture and taste with the figs and light lemon flavors, respectively. As I ate my piece, sharing it with John, I thought about how I have so much to be grateful for: I was in a completely different and so much better place than I was two years ago. Here I was at the same dining room table, where I had forced myself to put energy into an outline for a test for a license I felt I would never actually want to use but as a way to distract myself to keep from wanting to wallow in the pain of another difficult loss. Now, I was surrounded by family who was joining us to celebrate the birth of a new, very beloved and long-awaited baby.  If that’s a situation that doesn’t call for cake in some form, then I don’t know what will.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup medium ground yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
  • juice of 1/2 large lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 large eggs, separated, discarding one white (so you have 3 yolks and 2 egg whites)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar plus 2 tablespoons, divided
  • 1 pint fresh figs, quartered
  • 2 pints of fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9 inch round cake pan with butter.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking soda. In a small bowl, combine lemon zest, juice, almond extract, yolks and olive oil. Whisk until combined. In a mixing bowl whip the 2 egg whites to medium stiff peaks then quickly beat in sugar– the mixture should look shiny, peaks should hold and softly collapse, and when you lift the mixer whisk attachment up, the whites should slowly drip back into the bowl, almost like syrup pouring back down. Add the dry and wet mixtures to the egg whites and using a rubber spatula, fold until all is combined.

Spread batter into cake pan then carefully squish the fig quarters into the batter. Sprinkle the top with the remaining two tablespoons of sugar. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Cool then slice and serve, topped with strawberries.

CSA Count: 1

Strawberries

 

Three Rhubarb Recipes on Second City Soiree

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be a regular contributor on Second City Soiree. Second City Soiree is brought to you by Chicago hostess, lifestyle writer, and my high school friend, Jennifer Dunham Luby. Every other month, I hope to bring you information about seasonal ingredients along with easy and impressive ideas for using them. First up:

That’s right– rhubarb! Please stop by Second City Soiree for three simple yet surprising ideas for using honey-roasted rhubarb, and not a single one is that old standby, pie. (Not that I have any problem with pie…)

Apple Danish Tart

It’s ∏ Day! Time to make pie! So why am I writing about a pastry that is part danish and part tart instead? Well, here’s an actual conversation from my geeky household to yours.

Me: It’s ∏ Day! I need to make pie.

John: You don’t make pie to celebrate ∏ Day. You make circular arguments and circular things.

Me: I’m making pie because it’s ∏ Day. There’s a circular argument for you. Besides, pies are circular.

John: No they’re not.

Me: Yes they are.

John: No they’re not. Everyone knows that pie are square.

Oy… I seem to fall into the trap of John’s bad pun setups all the time.

Shaking that off for now, let’s go back a little in time to when this tart was made. For Christmas, John gave me a mandolin! So exciting! So shiny! So sharp! So scary! My giddiness about using it equals my fear which is a dangerous combination, but I still look for opportunities to use it. With leftover puff pastry and cream cheese lying in the fridge, I thought I’d throw together a tart as another opportunity to practice my slicing skills.

I let the cream cheese soften before mixing in some almond extract, a little sugar for a touch of sweetness, and some lemon zest to brighten the flavors. This was then spread out over a square of puff pastry then I shingled my perfectly sliced apple pieces that had been mixed with my favorite combination of apple pie spices: cinnamon, brown sugar, a little lemon juice, nutmeg, and cardamom. Cut into square pieces, each bite was a combination of buttery, crisp, flaky pastry; slightly sweet and tangy cream cheese, and firm, juicy apple pieces.

And there you go: square pie for your ∏ Day.

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator over night
  • 2 medium honeycrisp apples, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 5 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out puff pastry on a lightly floured surface until it measures 12 x 12 inches. Place square on a parchment paper or Silpat lined baking sheet. With a paring knife, lightly score a square about 1 inch inside the border (this will make the border rise, making a crust with a flat-bottomed center.)

In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt. Place the apple slices in a medium bowl and mix in the spice and brown sugar mixture until apples are coated. Take a taste and mix in lemon juice to taste. Set aside and let sit for 10-15 minutes.

With a mixer, beat together the cream cheese, granulated sugar, lemon zest, and almond extract until smooth and fluffy. Carefully spread this over the center part of the puff pastry, leaving the border clean of the filling (an offset spatula helps here.) Shingle the apple slices then drizzle with any juice left over in the bowl. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until crust is golden. Remove to a wire rack and let cool completely before cutting into 3 x 3 inch squares.