baking

Goodbye, Year of Exploration. Hello, Year of Ambition.

For the last three years, I’ve rejected the idea of explicit resolutions and instead made a habit of declaring a single word to embody each new year. There was the year of discovery (2012), the year of dedication (2013), and even the year of exploration (2014). Each year lived up to its name, albeit sometimes in surprising ways that pushed me to my limits and then a bit beyond.

In 2012, I discovered who I was away from my friends, outside of my hometown, and apart from everything that I’d always thought was certain, as well as who I was when I came back. In 2013, I dedicated myself to whatever felt important, including finishing my bachelors degree in English and refining my art. And, in 2014, I explored whatever struck my fancy, even as that led me to travel from coast to coast for months on end and begin a master’s degree in criminal justice. No two years were the same, yet no year was more or less enthralling than any other.

All of that being said, 2014 was pretty intriguing. I spent three months in California, Oregon, and Washington. Then I spent three months in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. That’s not to mention all the states and shores I visited on the way to and from those places. I turned 21 and wasted my newest privilege by drinking a pitifully small volume of alcohol (say “no” to big kablue-nas). I began graduate school and discovered that sometimes the student teaches the professor. I baked foods and treats I couldn’t even pronounce and used ingredients I’d never heard of before.

In short, I explored.

Now it’s time to put all of that behind me, to close the door on 2014’s wild exploration, and step into the year 2015, which already seems daunting and intoxicating.

Over the next 365 days, I’ll be traveling back to South Carolina, the state I know only through my family tree.  I’ll be completing my Masters of Criminal Justice degree, complete with nerve-wracking comprehensive exams. I’ll be leaving my friends and the only place I have ever truly regarded as “home.” I’ll be taking control of my health and defying my genetics. I’ll be taking important steps in my personal and professional lives, striving to achieve success through desire and determination.

All in all, 2015 can and will be nothing less than wild and engrossing, fast-paced and sublime. Thus, in the same vein of thought, I’ve decided to call 2015 the year of ambition. I chose the word ambition to embody or headline this year mostly because I have a strong desire to achieve multiple things this year. I have an end-game in mind and nothing will stop me from reaching it. In addition, I’ve come to realize that being ambitious is just in my nature and that is something to use to my advantage, to accept as a benefit. So, this year will be a journey in accepting ambition as a facet of my nature.

Keeping with tradition, as I jumpstart the New Year, I won’t write down any particular resolutions because, well, it just feels awful when a perfectly composed resolution isn’t fulfilled precisely as it was written. I prefer to stick with matters of certainty, like the inevitable graduation and move, and variety, like the generality of being ambitious in all my endeavors. Along the way, I simply hope that at least 15 marvelous things will happen.

Here’s to a year of purpose and cheers to everyone reading this. I hope that you find precisely what you are looking for in the exciting days ahead. Happy New Year!

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Butterbeer & Other Decadent Desserts.

I’ll just cut to the chase because, if my stats hold any truth, you’re here for either the butterbeer recipe or another major sugar rush. Have fun in fandom-land and bon appetit!

Potterhead Butterbeer

butterbeer

Whipped Topping:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 + 1/2 teaspoons imitation butter extract
  • 3 teaspoons granulated white sugar

Butterbeer:

  • 1-2 cups cream soda
  • 1 tablespoon butterscotch topping or syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon imitation butter extract

Directions:

  1. Place all whipped topping ingredients in a medium sized mixing bowl.
  2. Beat with electric mixer for approximately 3 minutes or until soft peaks form.
  3. Set aside.
  4. Pour, squirt, or spoon butterscotch into tall glass or mug.
  5. Pour cream soda into glass or mug, leaving 1 inch of space at top.
  6. Add imitation butter extract (according to ingredients list or to taste).
  7. Stir well.
  8. Spoon whipped topping onto the surface of the soda mixture.
  9. Sport a frothy/creamy mustache and pretend you’re Hermione Granger!

Classic Pound Cake

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  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 3 cups granulated white sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • vanilla extract
  • imitation butter extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions:

  1. Place cake flour, baking powder, and salt in medium mixing bowl.
  2. Sift two to three times. Set aside.
  3. Place butter (sometimes cutting it up helps) and coconut oil in bowl of stand mixer. Beat until fluffy.
  4. Add sugar. Beat until thoroughly blended.
  5. Beat on low while adding eggs one at a time. Beat until thoroughly blended.
  6. Alternately stir in parts of flour mixture and milk until all mixtures are semi-combined.
    1. Be sure that the mixtures are semi-combined. Using a hand or stand mixer with exposed dry ingredients may result in flour mushroom clouds!
  7. Beat on low as you add vanilla extract, imitation butter extract, and lemon juice.
  8. Allow cake batter to rest for a couple of minutes.
  9. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  10. Grease a bundt pan well.
    1. I’ve found the greatest success with coconut oil or olive oil.
  11. Pour batter into bundt pan and bake for 1 hour and 25 minutes. Adjust time based on oven.
  12. Remove from pan immediately after removal from oven.
  13. Let them eat cake!

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 + 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated brown sugar (dark or light)
  • 1 + 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
  • 3/4 cup vanilla greek yogurt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 can pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • semi-sweet chocolate chips (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Place all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Stir well (carefully) and set aside.
  3. Place brown sugar, white sugar, and yogurt in a medium mixing bowl. Stir well.
  4. Add eggs to mixture. Beat eggs in mixture with fork.
  5. Add pumpkin, coconut oil, and vanilla extract to mixture. Stir well.
  6. Combine dry and wet mixtures in the large mixing bowl. Stir well.
  7. Add chocolate chips to taste. Stir well.
  8. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  9. Grease two 9×5 loaf pans.
    1. Again, I prefer coconut oil or olive oil.
  10. Pour batter into pans and bake for 55 minutes. Adjust time based on oven.
  11. Remove from pans immediately after removal from oven.
  12. Give a toast to pumpkin spice season!

Chai Tea Sugar Cookies 

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Cookies:

  • 1 stick butter (I prefer butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows, like Kerrygold unsalted butter, for cookies; however, any butter will do in a pinch.)
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 + 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1-3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 dash cinnamon
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 chai tea sachet/bag

Glaze:

  • 3/4 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ginger
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk

Directions:

  1. Place butter and coconut oil in large mixing bowl. Beat with a hand mixer until fluffy.
  2. Add white sugar and powdered sugar. Beat until fluffy.
    1. Beware powdered sugar mushroom clouds!
  3. Add eggs, vanilla extract, and milk. Beat only until blended.
  4. Stir in baking soda, table salt, cinnamon, and flour.
  5. Add chai tea. Knead dough with clean hands.
  6. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  8. Roll dough into 1 inch balls. Place on parchment paper-covered cookie sheet and flatten to 1/4 inch thickness.
  9. Bake for 10 minutes. Adjust time based on oven.
  10. Mix powdered sugar, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and milk in a small bowl.
  11. Spoon glaze mixture onto hot cookies.
  12. Be a cookie monster!

Soft & Puffy Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Ingredients:

  • 1 + 1/2 stick butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 cup granulated brown sugar (dark or light)
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • semi-sweet chocolate chips (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Place butter and coconut oil in large mixing bowl. Beat with a hand mixer until fluffy.
  2. Add brown sugar and white sugar to mixture. Beat until fluffy.
  3. Add eggs and vanilla extract. Beat only until blended.
  4. Stir in baking soda, baking powder, table salt, and flour.
  5. Knead dough with clean hands.
  6. Stir in desired amount of semi-sweet chocolate chips.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  8. Roll dough into 1 inch balls. Place on parchment paper-covered cookie sheet.
  9. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Adjust time based on oven.
  10. Quick, hide the cookie jar!

Vanilla Bean Custard

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Ingredients:

  • 1 Madagascar vanilla bean, split
  • 1 + 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 + 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon coconut almond milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar

Directions:

  1. Cut vanilla bean pod in half length-wise.
  2. Moving a knife perpendicular to the vanilla bean pod, scrape out the vanilla beans and place in medium sauce pan.
  3. Add cream, milk, and coconut almond milk to sauce pan.
  4. Set aside.
  5. Place sugar and egg yolks in medium mixing bowl.
  6. Whisk together until combined.
  7. Set aside.
  8. Bring milk mixture to a boil.
  9. Combine milk mixture and sugar/egg mixture in medium mixing bowl.
  10. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
  11. Pour mixture into four 6 oz. ramekins or custard cups.
  12. Place filled ramekins or custard cups into a small roasting pan.
  13. Fill roasting pan with warm water to hot until water is halfway up the sides of the ramekins or custard cups.
    1. Alternatively, place ramekins or custard cups into roasting pan, place the roasting pan in the oven, then use a kettle to pour water into the pan while it is in the oven.
  14. Bake for 35 minutes. The tops of the custards should look crisp with small bubbles.
  15. Remove roasting pan from the oven, remove ramekins or custard cups from the roasting pan, and drain water.
  16. Allow custard to cool, then refrigerate or serve warm.
  17. Oh you fancy, huh?

Russian Food Adventures: Blini, Pirozhki, and Napoleon Cake.

It’s probably not the best time to admit this because of the Russia hate fest happening on capital hill, but, I can’t help it–I have a soft spot for Russia. The food, the music, the history, and even the politics are absolutely fascinating to me. Don’t misunderstand me, I loved and am proud of my American upbringing, but I also have a great appreciation for the world’s largest country.

Perhaps it’s because Russia was the elephant in the room of every one of my history classes growing up. In high school and university I remember my middle-aged, Cold War era teachers and professors blatantly ignoring the lands between Finland and the Bering Sea. Russia received only an honorable mention in the final weeks of each class when the World War II Allies were briefly discussed and then the events following 1945 ceased to exist.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t know my precise ethnic heritage and I could be “from” just about anywhere. My family isn’t particularly close-knit. Our family records extend back only as far as those family members which are currently alive, and even those records are questionable at best. As a military child, I’m from every part of the states, and maybe that makes it easier to believe that I’m from every part of the rest of the world too.

Perhaps it’s because there’s something fascinating about a black sheep, or a white cow (белая ворона), most especially when you’re talking about some supreme outcast on a global scale. When the western world and its media demonize the largest nation in the world, who isn’t a little curious? When a war can be fought and supposedly won without weapons or casualties, who doesn’t want to know a little bit more about what’s going on?

Regardless of why I’m generally interested in Russia, among other foreign nations, I’ve recently taken a particular interest in Russian and other Slavic foods.

The diversity of food is intriguing in and of itself. A vast collection of ingredients and procedures can result in infinite creations that can then feed innumerable people. Food identifies culture and yet it can cross cultural lines. Food speaks when people cannot find the words. Food bonds when other aspects of life would make bonding impossible. In celebration of food diversity and culture, here are a few of my favorite edible creations from eastern Europe.

Enjoy and have fun cooking!

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Blini (блины)

The first thought that many people will have when they see pictures of blini is “those are crêpes,” but, my darling bakers, they are most certainly different from crêpes. While both blini and crêpes might be called thin pancakes, blini are more sponge-like with small air bubbles throughout while crêpes are more bread-like with a fine and solid texture. Personally, after this experience, I wholly prefer blini.

The greatest commonalities between blini and crêpes are that both are generally served with a filling or spread, and both can be made in sweet or savory varieties. I tackled a (supposedly) more traditional, sweet variety because my family truly loves sugar, but plenty of savory recipes are available online for blini and blini fillings.

Perhaps it’s just a personal pet peeve, but I don’t like picking one recipe and calling it done. Thus, I ended up reading and combining the recipes from Elina of Russian Bites, Viktoria of Fun Russian: Learn Russian the Fun Way, and Florian Pinel of Food Perestroika: Adventures in Eastern Bloc Cuisine, in order to produce these blini.

Ingredients

2 eggs
2 cups milk
1 tbsp + 1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups flour (twice sifted)
2 tbsp coconut oil + more to rub pan

Directions

1. Beat eggs lightly in mixing bowl.

2. Stir milk, sugar, and salt into beaten eggs.

3. Slowly whisk sifted flour into the mixture.

4. Whisk coconut oil into the mixture and let rest for a minimum of 15 minutes.

5. Lightly oil a non-stick skillet and bring to medium high heat.

6. Reduce skillet to medium heat.

7. Lift skillet from heating element and pour between 1/4 and 1/3 cup of batter into the skillet at 12 o’clock. Slowly tilt the skillet in a circular motion, spreading the batter thinly.

8. Replace skillet onto the heating element.

9. Watch for browning at the edges of the blin (approximately 2 minutes after replacing the skillet on the heating element). When browning is noted, gently pry up the edge with a spatula. If the other side is golden brown, flip the blin.

10. Checking with a spatula for browning, cook the blin until the other side is golden brown as well. Slide cooked blin onto plate.

11. Lightly re-oil the skillet and repeat steps 7 through 11.

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Pirozhki (Пирожки)

Pirozhki are essentially hand pies that are filled with potatoes, various meats, onions, mushrooms, cabbage, stewed fruits, jam, quark, oatmeal, cottage cheese, or other such substances. They’re the type of food that you could pick up at a local market or cafe and eat on the go, or cook one night and eat for days to come (trust me, this recipe makes more than enough for leftovers).

I will forewarn that these take some time to make and put together–just short of 2 hours–if you’re not a master of preparing three items at once. Since I prepared two different fillings to add a little bit of variety to the meal, the three components for this recipe were dough, beef filling, and potato filling.

These pirozhki were made by combining recipes from Ann of Sumptuous Spoonfuls, JoAnn Cianciulli of Leite’s Culinaria, and Natasha of Natasha’s Kitchen. I tried not to stray too far from their recipes because I wanted to keep this traditional food traditional, but I did add my own flare with chili powder and such, so I would encourage my readers to do the same. Have fun with it and don’t stress about the details!

Ingredients

Dough:

3 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat white flour
3 eggs (beaten)
1 cup milk
1 tsp salt
3 tsp Red Star Quick-Rise (or other brand) yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp coconut oil

Beef Filling:

2 eggs
1.2 lb ground beef (lean; 90/10 or 93/7)
1/2 onion (large; peeled and chopped)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper
1 tsp dill weed
1 tsp chili powder
Purified water

Potato Filling:

3 to 4 potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion (large; peeled and chopped)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dill
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper
3 tbsp water
2 tbsp butter
Purified water

Topping:

8 oz sour cream
(Brown gravy is also recommended; however, recipes vary so much that I’ll leave the directions for that up to my readers.)

Directions

1. Place dough ingredients into bread machine–wet ingredients first, dry ingredients second, and yeast third–and set machine to run on the dough setting.

2. Hard boil the eggs for the beef filling:

  • A. Place two eggs in a pot and cover completely with purified water.
  • B. Place pot on heating element and set heat to medium high to bring to a boil.
  • C. When water begins to boil, remove pot from heat, cover with lid, and set timer for 10 minutes.
  • D. After 10 minutes, drain water and set eggs aside to cool.

3. Boil potatoes for the potato filling:

  • A. Place 3 to 4 potatoes in a large pot and cover completely with purified water.
  • B. Cover with lid and place pot on heating element, then set heat to medium high to bring to a boil.
  • C. When water begins to boil, reduce heat to low or low medium, and set timer for 10 minutes.
  • D. Check potatoes with a fork at 10 minute increments, piercing with fork to test firmness.
  • E. When fork pierces potato easily, remove from heat, drain, and set aside to cool.

4. Beef filling:

  • A. Heat skillet or sauce pan over medium to medium high heat.
  • B. Cook ground beef and onions until meat is grey to brown and onions are translucent.
  • C. Add garlic, salt, pepper, dill weed, and chili powder to meat. Heat for 1 minute then remove from heat.
  • D. Drain any excess liquid or grease from meat mixture and set aside momentarily.
  • E. Remove shell from hardboiled eggs and chop egg small pieces.
  • F. Stir egg into meat mixture. Set aside to cool.

5. Potato filling:

  • A. Peel and mash boiled potatoes in a mixing bowl with a potato masher or hand mixer. Set aside to cool.
  • B. Heat olive oil in sauce pan over medium heat.
  • C. Cook onions slowly over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  • D. When onions have become light brown, add a splash of water, stir, and continue cooking.
  • E. When onions have become medium brown, add garlic powder and dill, heat for 1 minute then remove from heat.
  • F. Stir caramelized onions, salt, pepper, red pepper, water, and butter into potatoes, combining thoroughly. Set aside to cool.

6. Filling the dough:

  • A. Remove dough from bread maker at the end of the dough cycle.
  • B. Separate dough into portions that are approximately the size of golf or cue balls.
  • C. Use a rolling-pin to flatten each ball into circles with approximately a 4 to 5 inch diameter.
  • D. Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of either beef or potato filling onto each circle of dough. The fillings can also be combined in a single pirozhok (1 tablespoon of each) for an even more filling hand pie.
  • E. Fill a shallow bowl with water. Dip fingertips in water, trace wet fingers along the edge of the dough, and pinch dough together, making a half-moon shape that encloses the filling.
  • F. Dampen the outside edges of the half-moon shape and place filled dough on cookie sheets covered with parchment paper.
  • G. When all of the dough circles have been filled, take a fork and press the edge of the dough to ensure filling does not leak.
  • H. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.

7.  Bake at 350F for 15 to 30 minutes or until the pirozhki are puffy and golden brown. Cool and serve with sour cream or brown gravy.

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Napoleon Cake (наполеон торт)

If you’ve taken a single course in European history then you know without a doubt that the most famous Napoleon was not Russian, and that fact has probably led you to wonder why this recipe is even included in this post. The truth is that this dessert is of French origin and is formally known as Mille-feuille and colloquially as Napoleon. The name Napoleon was actually derived from the French adjective for the Italian city Naples and only simple word associated led it to be connected with political figures by the name of Napoleon.

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Records and mentions of Napoleon Cake in Russia have been found dating back to the early 19th century; however, the dessert seems to have become truly popular in the celebrations that followed Russia’s victory over Napoleon Bonaparte and his army in the Patriotic War of 1812. The Russian variation of the dessert, which involves a greater number of layers of pastry and frosting made from sweetened condensed milk instead of custard, became standard in the USSR and remains favored in Russia and other post-Soviet nations.

I combined recipes from Natasha of Natasha’s KitchenLyuba of Will Cook for Smiles, and Katrina of Around the World in 80 Markets, and More, to produce this particular Napoleon Cake. Perhaps the most obvious change I made from these recipes was to use more frosting and include frosting on the topmost layer. This meant abandoning the traditional crumbled pastry topping, but it did not affect taste or appeal. This was purely a preferential change. As such, feel free to go old-school and do the crumble or follow my example and add the extra frosting.

Ingredients

1.1 lbs Pepperidge Farm (or other) ready-to-bake puff pastry sheets (2 sheets per package)
3/4 cup stick butter (nearly room temperature)
11 oz Eagle Brand (or other) sweetened condensed milk
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 splash heavy cream
1 tsp sugar

Directions

1. Defrost ready-to-bake puff pastry according to packaging.

2. Cut each puff pastry sheet into fourths, creating eight separate pieces.

3. Using rolling-pin, roll each piece until it is almost double in size and thin.

4. Cover large cookie sheets with parchment paper and place rolled pieces onto the paper.

5. Use a fork to poke at least five sets of holes into each piece.

6. Bake at 400F for 8 to 12 minutes, watching carefully for excessive browning. Baking times may vary based on specific oven used.

7. Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely.

8. While pastry cools, begin work on the frosting: cream butter in a mixing bowl with a hand mixer.

9. Mix condensed milk, vanilla, heavy cream, and sugar into the creamed butter.

10. When the pastry is cooled, spread frosting on 6 of the pastries. Reserve two portions of frosting in bowl (approximately 4 tbsp).

11. Assemble the pastry cake by stacking the frosted pastries on top of one another in a lidded container.

12. Place an unfrosted pastry on top of the last frosted pastry.

13. Place a paper towel on top of the stack. Slowly, evenly, and gently press down the stack.

14. Dispose of the paper towel and frost the top of the stack.

15. Crumble the final pastry over top of the frosted stack.

16. (Optional) Place the last of the frosting in a pastry bag and squeeze over top of the crumbled pastry.

17. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours.

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BONUS: Banana Bread

By all accounts, banana bread is not a traditional Russian recipe or even a Slavic recipe. However, I recently discovered what my family considers the perfect banana bread by combining recipes from Vadim of Natasha’s Kitchen and Sylwia of Sweet Home Polska. Vadim and Sylwia happen to be Russian and Polish, respectively, so for love of the resulting banana bread I’ve chosen to include my recipe in this Russia-centric post.

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Ingredients

4 ripe bananas
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 + 1/2 cups King Arthur bread flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp orange extract
1 cup chopped walnuts
coconut oil (for oiling pan)

Directions

1. Mash bananas with potato masher on large plate or in mixing bowl. Set aside.

2. Cream butter and sugar with hand mixer in a large mixing bowl.

3. Add eggs to mixture and mix with hand mixer.

4. Slowly add mashed bananas to mixture and combine well, eliminating any large lumps.

5. Slowly add flour into mixture and combine well.

6. Mix in baking soda, salt, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and orange extract.

7. Use flexible frosting spatula to stir in chopped walnuts.

8. Pour batter into oiled loaf pan, scraping sides of bowl with spatula.

9. Bake at 350F for 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the top center of the loaf comes out clean.

10. Remove from pan immediately and turn over onto cooling rack.

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I hope that you find these recipes useful and enjoy your foreign food experience. I would love to see what you create or hear how these recipes may have inspired you. If you decide to give these foods a chance, and you have a free moment, please send me a picture or message through twitter (@mylifeinverse), instagram (mylifeinverse), or email (mylifeinverse@live.com). Best of luck baking!

 

Foodie Feats and Treats.

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I’m going to let you in on a secret of mine: I have a bit of a baking obsession.

Actually, it’s a not-so-well-kept secret and forget the “bit”: I bake like the wind and force-feed everyone into a communal sugar high. But, what can I say, I dig being in the kitchen.

Most of the time, I bake in the evenings and late at night. For some reason, that’s always when I’m most creative and twitching to try what would normally be incredibly scary things like making croissants from a recipe written in French. So, in any one baking session, I can go from wanting a simple boxed cake to making a sugary feast of cake, pie, cookies, and something I can’t pronounce. (Life tip: always try foods you can’t pronounce.)

There’s just something so invigorating and therapeutic about baking.

You start with raw ingredients–a few cups of this, a tablespoon of that, maybe the zest of something strange–and somehow the sum of all the parts is an entirely new entity. It’s a bit like writing really. You mix everything together and hope that it becomes coherent. You pour yourself into something common and, with any luck, it becomes something extraordinary. There’s something beautiful in that coalescence.

The strange part of all of this is that I didn’t bake much before 2013. I could make a boxed cake with the best of them, and I thought I was pretty creative for adding Coca-Cola to boxed brownies, but I wasn’t a recipe-hoarding baker until last year. After a 3-almost-4-month-long RV trip with my parents in the summer of 2012, where we ate entirely too much fast food, I guess you could say I was desperate for something homemade.

In an attempt to feel a little less like a recipe-hoarder, here are a few of the recipes I’ve discovered and loved over the past year…

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Franzbrötchen

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I found this delightful recipe for German cinnamon rolls over at Food Thinkers by Breville just last week. I had gotten a bit of a wild hair and decided that puff pastry couldn’t be as difficult as it sounded, and thankfully these lovelies came out quite well, even if I did become a bit impatient at the time required.

Helpful hints: If you’re like me and have never tried a recipe like this (read: anything pastry-related), be careful to mind the temperature of your butter, don’t be too rough with the rolling pin, and make sure to keep your work surface well-floured. Also, I found that I had to bake them for 18 to 21 minutes in a convection oven for even the slightest golden edge, but obviously every oven is different, so pay close attention to how your oven is treating the delicate franzbrötchen.

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Russian Tea Cakes

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These shortbread-like (read: on the dry side) cookies have a lot of different names–Russian tea cakes, Mexican wedding cakes, snowball cookies, butterballs, and snowballs–and come in quite a few variations (almond, pecan, walnut, pistachio, chestnut etc). I found this particular, walnut-based recipe at AllRecipes.com.

Helpful hints: My family isn’t big on the more dry and crumbly cookies/cakes, so making these was a bit of an experiment. Although they loved the flavor and sugary coating, they wished it was a little less dry. If you or your family is the same way, simply add 1-3 tablespoons of milk to the recipe, or consider adding 1 tablespoon of milk and reducing the flour to about 2 and 2/3 cups. Also, I followed the baking instructions stated in the comments (300F for about 15 minutes) with great success–the originally stated temperature (350F) just seemed a bit high.

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(Sort-of) Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I’ve never been good with chocolate chip cookies. I am as good at burning cookies unintentionally as I am at getting the perfect layer of black on toast intentionally. Just as I was about to give up on cookies and drown my sorrows in something I can’t burn, I gave this recipe from Cookies & Cups a shot and was beyond euphoric to have them come out just right and without a single burn.

Helpful hints: Due to the polar vortex making Texas into Michigan I didn’t go out for groceries before I made these cookies, and I ended up using Country Crock Original instead of the stick butter called for in the recipe. I found that the switch made the dough a bit tackier/stickier than expected, but adding about 3 teaspoons of flour remedied the situation. In the end, the cookies rose well, maintained their softness for days, and tasted no different due to their whole wheat-ness.

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Apple Pie Cookies

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I have to give full credit for this discovery to the wonderful people of Pinterest, where the sheer number of pins (repins? pinnings?) practically forced me to venture over to Oh, Bite It! and take my first leap into the world of all things apple cinnamon.

Helpful hints: Although I used Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust, I would truly recommend trying a scratch recipe for the crust. Doing so allows you to have the fun of mixing a bit of cinnamon sugar into the dough to compensate for the typical lack thereof in the canned apple pie filling.

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Chocolate Chip Irish Soda Bread

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I pulled this recipe out the google hat when I decided to learn foods based on my heritage and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. It may look like a chocolate heart attack waiting to happen, but this Baking Bites recipe yields a bread that is the perfect mix of sweet and savory.

Helpful hints: If my attempt proves average, then you’ll probably need the extra tablespoon (or 3) of flour to make the dough a bit less sticky and easier to work with. Also, if you’re like me, then 1/2 cup of chocolate chips, all of that cocoa powder, and sugar is a bit daunting. Don’t be afraid to cut the amount of chocolate chips; it will turn out fine with more or less of them. 

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Orange Pound Cake

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My mother actually tipped me off to this cake late one night when I couldn’t sleep and really needed a good baking binge to get ready for bed. The recipe can be found on Yummly, but it is technically intended as an I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! recipe, but it comes out just the same with regular stick butter.

Helpful hints: On first glance, you’ve probably already noticed that the directions are a bit out of order, but that can be corrected by simply adding step 5 in before 3 and step 4 after 6. Anyways, I make my orange pound cake with Dannon Oikos Greek Nonfat Vanilla Yogurt and an extra 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. I find that these two vanilla ingredients balance out the orange a bit better and give the cake a smoother, more palatable taste. 

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Best of luck in your baking endeavors and feel free to share other recipes in the comments!

Foodulthood.

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When you’re a kid, you absorb little lessons each day without even realizing it. Later on, you start to notice what you’ve learned because others do something, or perhaps everything, differently. Here’s what my childhood taught me about food:

Nothing can beat taco pizza from Pizza Inn in Conway, South Carolina…except maybe the pudding at the Filling Station in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich are amazing…if you leave off the jelly.

When you get Pepsi in an individual bottle, buy a sleeve of Lance regular, salted peanuts. Then, drink a little bit out of the soda and pour the peanuts into the bottle. Drink that delicious motherfucker.

Eating M&Ms is automatically better when you have someone else to share them with and you can play a game of candy color go fish.

Eating spoonfuls of peanut butter at midnight is totally acceptable, as long as you use multiple spoons and never double dip.

There is a pizza joint in Canada, somewhere northwest of Ontario that, in the early 2000s, served the best food I’d ever had. Someday I’ll find that hearty joint.

Don’t dare to call barbecue the action of grilling meat and then pouring sauce on top of it. Barbecue is much more complex and generally only delicious if you get it from a place called Cooper’s Country Store in Kingstree, South Carolina.

Croissants are the perfect food for a Christmas morning…and Christmas afternoon…and Christmas night.

Giving me sugar or another sweetener to add to a glass of unsweetened tea does not sweet tea make.

Cereal counts as a meal whether or not you eat it with milk. However, if you stick it in a plastic bag, it becomes a snack, no matter how big the serving.

Bread is the ultimate food but, pro tip: take a slice of sandwich bread, tear or eat off the crusts, and flatten the remaining bread in whatever way you like. Just make that white bread goodness look like the Eucharist in church and eat.

The tangy tomato dressing from Outback Steakhouse is the best dressing in the world. It should be bottled and given out free to every U.S. citizen as salad potion, just to brighten everyone’s days.

Boiled peanuts are the ultimate snack. They’re actually the official snack food of my birth state. But, when you eat them from a brown paper bag, they are three times better.

For some completely unknown reason, a sandwich will always taste better if someone else fixes it for you.

The U.S. military has a secret weapon and it is the pepperoni pizza from Anthony’s…a restaurant that can only be found on military installations and I wouldn’t have it any other way. No one wants to share that amazing cheese, bread, and meat combo.

Popped jello out of the snack cup, slicing it into pieces, and putting whip cream on each piece automatically makes you feel fancy and fulfilled.

Coke and Pepsi are not the same. Don’t ask me if I’ll accept one when I’ve asked for the other.

Popcorn is evil. If it is anywhere even kind of, sort of, maybe, near its’ expiration date then don’t eat it. I’m telling you: pure, unadulterated evil.

There is a huge different between the Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese with the cheese powder and the same with the cheese goo. Say no to goo every time.

Coconut oil does not in fact make foods taste like coconut…however, if you tell someone who you used it, they will insist that they taste it.

The pop tarts that were around circa 1999/2000 that broke into three strips of pop tart were the best pop tarts ever. Why did you discontinue them, Kellogg, why?

Red delicious apples win. Small, medium, or large. Period.

Traveling just to go to a particular restaurant is acceptable and highly encouraged.

Everyday counts as a holiday if you make and eat pumpkin pie. Also, use the Libby’s recipe, but you must use more cinnamon and less ginger or your pies are pitiful.

Avoid drinking too much of the blue Gatorade, particularly if you’ve not eaten much else recently or with it. It goes down blue, but trust me, it comes up green.

They say that a watched pot never boils. I’m here to tell you that is just silly. A watched pot seems to boil over even faster than the one I abandoned for 10 minutes.

Making pasta sushi from the left over ingredients of lasagna (mozzarella cheese rolled in lasagna noodles and dipped in sauce) is the best part of lasagna-making.

The barbecue sauce from Burger King is the perfect dipping sauce for french fries and thus stockpiling it every time you eat there is fully allowed.

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That is all that I can think of at this moment, and the boiled peanuts my father just made are calling my name, so I’ll leave it up to you guys now. Post your own food lessons in the comments.

I wonder what food lessons I’ll pass on to people as time passes. Peace, love, and pizza.