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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Orecchiette with Greens and Beans

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about motherhood so far is introducing our daughter to new foods. It’s been so much fun watching her take a tentative bite, have an initial look of shock or horror, suck on her thumb for comfort while she pieces it out whether she likes the taste or not, then signalling that she’s willing to give it another try by popping her little mouth open. We soon know whether it’s met her approval when she smiles broadly and leans forward, eager for another bite. So far, the only thing that she has flat-out, consistently refused is cauliflower, and being a recent but still wary cauliflower convert myself, I can’t blame her.

Being foodies ourselves, I hope that we can continue to cultivate her palate, but I know that in all likelihood, this openness to eating green, leafy vegetables and trying new things is sadly unlikely to last. In the meantime though, I’ve had fun experimenting with some of the techniques and suggestions from What Chefs Feed Their Kids, a cookbook with ideas for meals that both parents and kids at all stages can enjoy together. This dish is inspired by that book’s Wild Greens Puree, a delicious mess of wilted kale, collard greens, spinach, basil and parsley. Our daughter runs hot and cold for that puree, although lately, she eats it more consistently when blended with a white bean dip. On the days when she refuses it, John and I don’t mind, scooping it up with tortilla chips while sipping some pre-dinner martinis as we complete her bedtime routine. Yeah, it’s just that good.

Recently, I found myself with a bunch of leftover greens and an extra can of white beans in our cupboard after we made some purees for her meals. The cookbook suggests thinning the greens puree into a soup for the adults, but I liked the idea of making a heartier meal and using the greens and beans in a pasta dish with some crumbled sausage. The one issue was that I felt like just mixing sautéed greens into the pasta would mean stringy, difficult to eat pieces of vegetables, so I decided to cook down my mix of green vegetables, then puree them into a slick sauce to coat the pasta. I browned some crumbled, spicy Italian sausage then sautéed some shallots and garlic in the rendered fat. I then piled on the green vegetables– kale, mustard greens, and spinach. Once wilted, I added the mix to a blender with a splash of chicken stock and pureed it until I had a bright green sauce. This went back into the pan with the sausage, some cannellini beans, and the pasta, then mixed to coat. A sprinkle of fresh basil added some brightness. This was delicious, and I love the fact that we were eating a combination that our daughter loves to eat too. Next attempt on this front: pureed, roasted eggplant for her; baba ganoush for us!

  • 1 lb dried orecchiette pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb bulk Italian sausage (sweet or hot)
  • 2 large shallots, halved and sliced
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 bunch each: kale, spinach, and mustard greens, leaves removed from stems and roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 15oz can cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/4 cup torn basil leaves

Cook pasta about 2 minutes shy of package directions in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta cooking water when ready to drain.

While water for pasta comes to a boil, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned and caramelized, about 7-8 minutes. Remove sausage from pan, leaving rendered fat behind. Add the shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes and saute until shallots are softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped mixed greens in 1/3 batches, wilting down one batch before adding another. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. When the leaves have all cooked down, add all the contents of the pan to a blender with the chicken stock and puree until greens are finely chopped and you have a smooth sauce. You might add some of the pasta cooking water to achieve your desired consistency. Adjust seasoning to taste. Add the pasta, the cooked sausage, drained beans, and the puree to the pasta cooking pot and mix until combined. Add more reserved pasta cooking water if mixture gets too dry. Spoon onto plates and garnish with torn basil. Serve with grated cheese if you wish.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Muffin Tin Frittatas

I think that so far, I’ve been lucky that having a baby around the house hasn’t affected my finding time to cook too much. Sure some things have changed: we don’t eat dinner until 8:30 at night so I can still make food from scratch but start after she goes to bed; I certainly don’t blog about my efforts as often; and dinner plans with friends have now become brunches, squeezed in between her morning and mid-day naps.

I also fully anticipate that this will likely change once she’s more mobile and I can’t just plop her down in a Bumbo chair or exersaucer and entertain her by explaining what I’m doing as I cook. I’ll have to find fast but tasty ways to still cook from scratch if I can. These mini frittatas should fit the bill. Quick assembly, hands off co0king in the oven, lovely colors, easily portable to friends’ houses, and delicious warm or at room temperature. Plus it has a frou frou sounding name to keep the foodie in me happy if I have to eat on the run, chasing down the little tornado of destruction that my backwards crawling daughter is on the verge of becoming.

I also like how versatile these are– you can load them up with whatever ingredients you want. When I made these for a potluck brunch with friends, I made one batch with cheddar, bacon, and chives and another batch with smoked salmon, cream cheese, fresh dill, and diced red onion. These cooked beautifully. They puffed up, got crispy on the outside and yet were tender on the inside. Perfect for brunch with or without little kiddos running around, and although lately our brunches have been with little babies and toddlers, that doesn’t stop us from pairing these with mimosas and dousing them with Sriracha. Parenthood doesn’t have to change everything, you know.

  • 8 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • cooking spray
  • filling ingredients of your choice. Examples: 4 ounces cooked, crumbled bacon, 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese and 2 tablespoons fresh chopped chives. Also pictured here, 4 ounces crumbled smoked salmon, 3 ounces cream cheese, 2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill, and 1/4 cup finely diced red onion.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Take a muffin tin and lightly coat with cooking spray. Beat together eggs, milk, salt and pepper until well combined. Add filling ingredients* then pour into muffin tin, filling about 3/4 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the eggs have just set and are a little quivery when you gently shake the muffin tin. Remove from oven and let cook for about 5 minutes. Using an offset spatula, gently loosen the frittatas from the muffin tins and set on a serving platter. Sprinkle with any additional chives or other fresh herbs, depending on what ingredients you used (cilantro for a southwestern theme would be good, parsley for an Italian theme, you get it.) Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 9 frittatas.

*If doing bacon, cheddar and chives, add 3/4 cup of cheese to the eggs and reserve the last 1/4 cup to sprinkle on top of the frittatas in the last few minutes of baking so that there’s a gooey cheese layer on top.

Tamari Braised Kale

Kale. It’s a vegetable that frequently induces this kind of reaction. But I for one love it.

A favorite neighborhood restaurant helped show me the light. A standard side dish for them is a delicious pile of kale braised in tamari soy sauce. It’s hearty and strikes a balance between saltiness, sweetness, and the bitterness of the greens. It also packs a wallop of a umami punch, probably thanks to that dark, rich soy sauce. Before our daughter was born, my husband and I ate there practically weekly but in the first few months of new, homebound parenthood, I had to figure out how to make that kale at home. Here’s my best effort– not exactly the same in taste, but I love this just the same. I like to serve this on the side of homemade mac n’ cheese just like they do at the restaurant (only there’s is an amazing vegan version!) since it’s not only delicious and helps cut through the creaminess of the cheese, but it also deceives me into thinking that mac n’ cheese is a nutritious meal.

  • 1 large bunch of kale (curly, lacinato, black your choice)
  • 1 small red or sweet onion or 1 large shallot if you prefer
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoon tamari soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Remove kale leaves from stems then discard stems. Roughly chop the leaves and rinse in a colander. Do not shake dry– you want the water to still cling to the leaves.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Thinly slice the onion then add to the skillet. Saute until softened. Turn the heat up to medium high then add the kale leaves. Sprinkle with brown sugar, tamari, and black pepper and cook until wilted, stirring occasionally. Continue to cook until liquid has evaporated and lightly coats the kale leaves. Serve immediately.

Serves 2

Roasted Yams and Pears in Rosemary Walnut Honey

I am a slacker. Okay, for those of you who know me personally, that’s not news, but really– I’ve been feeling my slacker title particularly hard during the holidays. For example, it’s now officially too late to talk about the holidays as anything but dead and gone and I’m getting around to writing this post now. The reason? My amazing co-workers generously doled out handmade gifts– I received homemade soaps, a personalized covered notebook, amazing dark chocolate bark with sea salt and marcona almonds, and a jar of delicious rosemary honey. What did I give in return? Nothing. Yeah, I know I have this lovely excuse, but I still feel guilty.

But I made the most of those lovely gifts. That jar of honey? I used some of it to make a side dish for our Christmas dinner. Inspired by another co-worker’s contribution to our pre-holiday pot luck, I used the honey to help sweeten and add spice to a dish of roasted pears and yams. The honey had stems of rosemary, a couple of small red chili peppers, and golden nuggets of walnut, so I thought that since all those flavors marry well with yams and pears, maybe this might add something special to the dish rather than using regular clover honey.

And you know what? It was perfect. Those spices made the yams taste slightly earthy, enough of a contrast so that it helped round out the sweetness of the pears. There was also a pleasing variety of textures: slightly crisped skinned yams with soft but not mushy pears and the crunch of walnuts. This was a side dish that you just couldn’t help smiling after taking a bite. I may be a slacker and late to say this, but I am so very thankful for all the wonderful things that happened in 2011– a beautiful baby, a job that I love, and thoughtful co-workers.

Note: Be sure to buy under-ripe pears. I used Anjou pears here. And since not everyone can be lucky enough to receive a jar of honey steeped with rosemary, chili and walnuts, I’ve adjusted the ingredient list below accordingly.

  • 3 small yams, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 firm pears, cored and chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed from stems and roughly chopped (yield about 1.5 tablespoons)
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed and roughly chopped (yield about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted and roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine all the ingredients except walnuts in a large bowl and toss together. Spread out on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until yam pieces are tender. Tumble the roasted mix into a large serving bowl or onto a platter and sprinkle with walnuts and any additional fresh rosemary and thyme if you wish. Serve immediately.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Three Easy Squash Soup Variations on Second City Soiree

It’s winter and therefore, perfect weather for cozying up to a piping hot bowl of creamy, sweet and spicy, winter squash soup. Below is a recipe for the soup, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, then visit Second City Soiree for three easy ideas for garnishes that transform this one soup into three different but equally delicious variations.

  • 1 medium winter squash of your choice, be it butternut, sugar pumpkin, or kuri (pictured above), peeled, seeded, and chopped, yielding about 4 cups of 1 inch pieces
  • 1 large leek, trimmed of dark green and root ends, quartered length wise and thinly sliced. Place slices in a bowl full of water and stir around to release dirt. Use a strainer to remove leek pieces to drain.
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4-6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1-2 tablespoons of a mix of spices of your choice– I’m a fan of ground cinnamon, curry powder, cayenne, and ground ginger
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper

Spray a large glass or microwave safe bowl with cooking spray. Add the squash. Microwave on high for 7 minutes. Take bowl out and stir. If squash pieces are fork tender, you’re done. If not, microwave for another 3-7 minutes. Place a colander over a medium bowl and drain squash, reserving any liquid. Set aside squash and squash juice.

In a large soup pot, melt butter over medium high heat. When butter’s foam has subsided, add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally for 4-5 minutes. Add the squash and squash juice along with the spices and thyme. Cook for 10 minutes or until juices have evaporated and a fond has formed on the bottom of the pot. Deglaze with 1 cup of stock. Add another 3 cups of stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes. Puree using an immersion blender (or in batches of no more than 2 cups at a time in a regular blender, holding the lid down with a towel.) Add more stock to reach your preferred consistency then season with salt and pepper to taste.