Sunday, February 22

Relief - {Roasted Banana Cake with Cinnamon Honey Pecans and Cream Cheese Frosting}

I’m so thankful for my eight to five, Monday through Friday schedule. I thought working a forty hour week would kill me, but there’s nothing you could give me to trade this life for what I had in college, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

Sure, there’s some stuff I miss, and some stuff that’s still kind of the same. There’s was excitement in the unknown and the unplanned... But, at this point, I’m thankful that I’m generally able to leave work at five on Friday, walk into my house shortly afterward, and not have to have a productive thought again until early Monday morning.

I’m thankful that weekend group projects and overwhelming homework is behind me. That I’m working on things that have purpose and meaning; that seem like they contribute to something greater. That I’m working on a team I can learn from, and alongside people who can teach me about myself.

In all of this, I’m not slamming college. Those four years were certainly some of the most important of my life, and I loved them all. But, even so: I’ll be damned if you think there’s even a sparkle of envy in my eyes when I listen to any of my wonderful college-aged friends talking about school, career fairs, and job hunting.

Because that’s just a bunch of crap, and I’m so thankful that it’s all behind me.

Call me lazy, but I’m thankful every day that I get to go home after five, pour myself a glass of cheap wine, and shut off my brain. I wake up at the same time every weekday, and am ever grateful to finally have a regular schedule. I’m thankful every single day for upcoming weekend mornings that start at 10 and linger into the afternoon. Thankful to not have to get dressed to leave my bedroom, and thankful to no longer share a bathroom with the students living next door – even if they were great suitemates.

But mostly, I’m thankful that after an uncomfortable, anxious, and stressful week, I can spend an entire weekend completely silent, relaxed, and happy with S, my best friend, alone – but together - in our living room. Safe, where the only thing able to rattle my brain is me, and the antidote to my poison is beside me whenever I need him.

Roasted Banana Cake

I love this recipe. If you don't want to roast the bananas, don't. It helps to amplify their flavor, but the cake is still lovely without it. Moist and tender - everything you want a banana cake to be! Based on this recipe from Epicurious.

~2 ripe bananas, enough to make 1 cup, mashed
2 1/4 c cake flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c butter, room temp
1 1/3 c sugar
2 eggs, room temp
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 c buttermilk, room temp

Preheat your oven to 350F. Prepare two nine-inch cake pans by oiling and lining with parchment paper. Set aside. Line a sheet pan with foil and set aside.

Slice each banana in half lengthwise and remove the peel. Place each half, cut side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Spray or brush lightly with oil and bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes until soft and fragrant. Remove from oven and cool while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. This should take about ten minutes, and you should scrape the bowl down occasionally. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

At this point, mash the cooled bananas and mix with the buttermilk.

Scrape down the sides of your mixer and add 1/3 of the dry ingredients. Mix well to combine, then add 1/2 of the wet ingredients. Continue in this manner until all ingredients are incorporated, mixing only as much as you need to bring it all together. Divide evenly between pans and bake until the cake springs back when pressed, about 25-30 minutes.

Cool cakes on racks for 10 minutes, then turn out onto plastic wrap, wrap well and refrigerate until cool.

Honey Toasted Pecans

1 Tbsp butter
1 c raw pecans
1 Tbsp honey
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Lay a sheet of parchment paper on your counter to spread the finished nuts on.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat, then add the pecans. Toast until fragrant, just a few minutes, then drizzle on the honey, cinnamon, and salt. Toss to coat and spread on the parchment paper to cool. Use to top frosted cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 c butter, room temp
1 lb cream cheese, cubed and at room temp
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Beat the butter until light and fluffy, about ten minutes. Scrape down the bowl, and beat in the cream cheese, a little at a time, whipping until fully incorporated. Add in the powdered sugar, bit by bit, and beat until light. Beat in the vanilla.

Thursday, February 12

Familiar - {Peanut Butter Oreo Banana Bread}

Banana Bread - with a twist! Peanut butter and Oreos make it extra special.

I struggle with banana bread.

Struggle in the way that I have never, ever, in the history of ever, had bad banana bread.

Struggle like, the struggle is really, really real when I go to the kitchen and somehow the loaf isn’t gone and ok maybe I’ll just have one more slice.

Banana Bread - with a twist! Peanut butter and Oreos make it extra special.

But no banana bread tops my Grandma’s, whose recipe, I am just now realizing, I have not yet shared here... Guess I’ll need to ask permission for that one... Anyway, to further tempt, she usually bakes hers in mini-loaves that are both cute and conveniently sized into a portion *just* small enough that you don’t hate yourself when you, inevitably, eat the entire thing in one day. To top it off, she stores the plush loaves in the freezer, giving them the perfect chewiness and resistance with each melting bite.

Banana Bread - with a twist! Peanut butter and Oreos make it extra special.

I’ve always appreciated that Grandma folds healthy handfuls of pecans or walnuts into most of her baked goods. As I’ve really dug my claws into this passion of mine, I can’t help but assume that those tiny notes on her recipe cards are a big part of what has inspired me to experiment and test in the kitchen. Thanks, at least in part, to her, I’m always seeking out tiny changes – some unexpected and some not – to take kitchen creations to another level.

Banana Bread - with a twist! Peanut butter and Oreos make it extra special.

So, late last Monday when my expedition into the depths of the freezer left me pecan-less, I was optimistic instead of bummed. I’d forgotten that the nuts were long gone: toasted in a pat of butter, sprinkled with cinnamon and salt; goodness sealed with a heavy drizzle of honey before being laid to rest atop a banana cake that had been previously delivered to the office.

I changed course, as I find myself trying to do more actively lately, and found a recipe for peanut butter banana bread to use as a base. I know it’s not much, but I made it my own in perhaps the most obvious way a person could: by readying a pile of crushed Oreos to sprinkle into the batter just before baking. And, you know, it’s simple, but it’s comfortable. It’s not Grandma’s, but it’s still good – especially when served as Grandma serves hers: with a fat schmear of salty butter… Or oleo.

Banana Bread - with a twist! Peanut butter and Oreos make it extra special.

Peanut Butter Oreo Banana Bread

This recipe was inspired by this one from Panera Bread.

3-4 bananas (enough for 1 1/2 cups of mashed banana)
1 1/2 c flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 c creamy peanut butter
1/4 c butter, softened
1/2 c sugar
2 eggs, room temp
1 tsp vanilla
10 Oreos, crushed

Set your oven to 350F. Oil and line an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan. Set aside. Line a small baking sheet with parchment.

Slice each banana lengthwise, then remove the peel. Place the halved bananas on the parchment lined sheet, and spray or brush with oil. When the oven has come to temp, roast until fragrant and juicy, about 15-20 minutes. Cool to room temp on a rack (or in the fridge… or your freezing cold garage). Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the peanut butter, butter, and sugar until light and fluffy. This should take about 10 minutes, and you should scrape the bowl occasionally.

One by one, add the eggs, mixing for about a minute after each addition and scraping the bowl well.

Beat in the vanilla.

When the bananas have cooled, mash them.

Add half of the dry ingredients to the batter, and mix to combine. Scrape down the bowl and add the mashed banana. Continue , in this manner, until all of the dry goods and mashed bananas have been added. Stir in the smashed Oreos.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and flatten the surface. Bake in the preheated oven about 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick in the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached. Cool on a rack for ten minutes, then depan onto the rack and cool to desired temp before serving.

Wednesday, February 4

Stay - {Blood Orange Cheesecake}

Blood orange cheesecake. Beautiful and romantic dessert for Valentine's Day and beyond!

Confused, he’s shaking. There’s undeniable fear in his eyes: loved, but “forgotten.” Lost in a totally new place with totally new people.

Meanwhile, we’re just here, feeling awful and trying to picture ourselves in his shoes.

Well, maybe “snow booties” is more accurate.

We’re dog sitting this week, and this poor little guy doesn’t seem to love the idea as much as we do.

You see, my parents always had dogs. Generally on the larger side, usually vaguely threatening looking, but always friendly. Mom and Dad were careful to pick the kinds of dogs that might make our house unappealing to unwelcome guests, but that would be known by friends to have a heart of gold. Smart. Protective. Playful. They were always adopted or rescued; perfect in temperament and happy for a second chance.

Blood orange cheesecake. Beautiful and romantic dessert for Valentine's Day and beyond!

Because I was so used to the companionship, going through college without a dog was bizarre. I was thankful H had pet rats (they’re great, so don’t even), and happy to have inherited her strong-willed fish for a number of years.

Even if he did die a dramatic and freakish death on an early date with S… But I suppose that’s another story…

Anyway, no dog? It sucks. Even, what, six years into this sad, dogless existence, it breaks my heart every day to come home and not be greeted with bounding strides and cries of joy. I miss it so much.

So, I guess we’re kind of trialing, or something like it, with someone else’s dog this week… And it’s pretty great.

Blood orange cheesecake. Beautiful and romantic dessert for Valentine's Day and beyond!

In the time it’s taken me to write this, just a few hours after his mom left him in our care, our little buddy’s warmed up to us. As I type, he’s bouncing enthusiastically around a fresh rawhide, pouncing fiercely as if it were alive and fighting back.

And S and I are comfortably nearby, on the couch.

Living life with a dog like it’s… Normal…

And slowly coming to the realization that… Well, it kind of is.

And maybe, just maybe, we’re ready to start looking for a fur-baby of our own…

Blood orange cheesecake. Beautiful and romantic dessert for Valentine's Day and beyond!

Blood Orange Cheesecake

This showstopper is composed of two lovely things. The first is this wonderful recipe from Simply Recipes; the only cheesecake recipe you need to know. Seriously, it's the lightest and fluffiest one on the planet!
The second source is this beautiful cheesecake that I found on the Martha Stewart website. While I didn't borrow her cheesecake recipe (I'm stuck on the one from Simply Recipes. It's that good), I couldn't deny the beautiful topping! I chose to use only blood oranges in this rendition, as I wanted to let them shine on their own.

Graham Cracker Crust

2 c (475 ml) of Graham cracker crumbs (slightly less than 2 sleeves - best to weigh)
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
5 Tbsp (70 g) butter, melted

Begin by preparing your pan. Firmly wrap the outside of a 9" springform pan with aluminum foil. This works best if you can use an extra wide roll, because you want to make sure NO WATER can seep into the bottom of your pan. After the pan is firmly lined, preheat the oven to 350F and set the pan aside.

In a food processor, process the graham crackers with the sugar and salt until you have fine crumbs. Remove the lid and drizzle in the butter. Process to combine and press evenly into the bottom of your prepared pan.

Bake for 10 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Cheesecake Filling

2 lbs (900 g) cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/3 c (270 g) sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsps vanilla
4 eggs, room temp
2/3 c (160 ml) sour cream, room temp
2/3 c (160 ml) heavy whipping cream, room temp

Reduce the temp of your oven to 325F. Pour about 2 quarts of water into a large pan and set on the heat to bring to a boil while you prepare the filling.

It's important to note, before we begin, that you don't want to whip a lot of air into this. That may cause it to crack later! So resist the urge to turn the mixer up too high, mkay?

Place the cream cheese in the bowl of your stand mixer and blend on medium-low speed until smooth and creamy, being sure to scrape down the bowl. This should take about four minutes.

Scrape down the bowl and add the sugar and salt, and vanilla. Blend to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl well before each addition.

Blend in the sour cream and heavy whipping cream. Pour, gently, into your prepared crust.

Place the cheesecake into a roasting pan and move everything to the preheated oven. Carefully pour the water into the roasting pan so that it comes up the sides of the pan about 1 1/4 inches.

Bake for 1 and a half hours. Turn off the heat and crack the oven door one inch. Allow to cool like this for another hour. I like to wad up a ball of aluminum foil and jam it over the switch that will shut off the oven light for this step.

After the hour has passed, cover the top of the cheesecake with aluminum foil and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Blood Orange Topping

5 blood oranges, chilled
1 1/4 tsps unflavored gelatin
1 1/4 c water, divided
1/3 c sugar
Juice of 1 lemon + blood orange juice to make 1/4 c total liquid (see instructions below)

Supreme the blood oranges. I started by peeling them with a knife to remove all of the pith, then carefully cut along the membranes for individual slices. Set aside the supremes, and hold onto the membranes. Toss the peels.

Place 1/4 c cold water in a bowl and sprinkle gelatin evenly over the top. Allow to bloom, about 5 minutes, until liquid has gelled.

In the meantime, combine the remaining 1 c water and the sugar into a sauce pan. Juice the lemon into a measuring cup, and squeeze enough juice from the blood orange membranes into the cup to equal 1/4 c total liquid. Add to the pot.

Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and stir in the bloomed gelatin. Allow to cool slightly while you arrange the citrus supremes over the cheesecake. Carefully, pour over the slightly cooled gelatin. Place in fridge to chill completely, at least 1 hour.