Banana Breakfast Crumb Cake

We've all been there; that bowl of ripe bananas on the counter getting riper by the minute.  You can hear the clock ticking... any moment now those babies are going south; brown and shmushy being their inevitable fate.  But you have a few options available to prevent the ultimate horror of over-ripeness.  Firstly, you could pop them in the fridge which really does slow down the ripening process.  It also turns the skins a very dark brown, but the banana itself will still be good for several days longer.  

Or you might pull out a loaf pan and get some banana bread made pronto, or you could throw em in the blender and make smoothies for everyone, or you could also slice em up and throw em in the freezer to be used at a later date for ice cream or future smoothies.

But then you could maybe do what I did and make yourself an incredibly delicious banana breakfast cake.  There are no bad options in that list of possible banana uses, but this breakfast cake was a revelation... moist, flavorful and just the right amount of crunch with that crumb topping.  Such a lovely way to accompany one's coffee first thing in the morning, and a very happy way to start the day.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for any amount of time know that I'm not much for extended cooking projects first thing in the morning (not that this is all that difficult, but it does require one to be fairly awake and conscious for most of the steps).   You will be happy to hear that I made this the day before and warmed some up for our breakfast.  And it was perfect. Because it's so moist, it keeps very well on the counter overnight (tightly covered) and for several days (or longer) in the fridge.  It doesn't even need to be warmed, but it was ever so good that way.

And, by the way, it's not just the cooking that I resist first thing in the morning, there's also this...

Best to not have to face this before at least 2 cups of coffee, right?  If you're like me and happen to be cooking-averse before 10 a.m., another option might be to mix the cake ingredients and the crumb topping separately the night before, stash them in the fridge and assemble and bake the next morning. Can't think of too many things better than waking up to the aromas of banana cake baking in the oven.  Except possibly the blissfully divine experience of nibbling on a piece of said cake with one's morning coffee.   Here's the recipe...

Banana Breakfast Crumb Cake

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe courtesy of Relish Magazine

As I mentioned in the blog post, this is fairly simple to put together, but you can easily make and bake this the day before.  It keeps beautifully on the counter overnight or in the fridge for longer.  You could also make the cake and topping separately, stash them in the fridge overnight and then assemble and bake the next morning.  However you choose to put this together, you will be well rewarded.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (I used a little more than this)
1/3 cup 2 percent low-fat milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Coat a 9-inch-square baking pan with cooking spray.

For topping, combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter in a food processor and process until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in walnuts.

For cake, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat butter with a mixer at medium speed about 30 seconds or until smooth. Gradually add sugar and beat 3 to 4 minutes or until fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each. Add vanilla and bananas and beat until well blended. Add flour mixture alternately with milk, mixing after each addition only until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan; sprinkle with topping.

Bake about 35 to 45 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (Mine needed about 40 minutes).  Cool in pan on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The cake can be covered tightly and stored on the counter overnight and reheated in a low oven (300-325 degrees) to crisp the topping.  It will also keep for several days (or longer) in the fridge.

Avocado Hummus

This is an outstandingly delicious hummus dip that we probably shouldn't even be calling hummus.  The hummus police tend to be sticklers when it comes to what sorts of ingredients go into their traditional chickpea dip, and I knowingly risk the ire of those folks by daring to mention hummus and avocado in the same breath.

But we're accustomed to living dangerously here in the Circle B Kitchen, and if avocado makes hummus just that much more luscious, then we're in.  Hummus purists might want to give this one a taste before judging; we could have a few converts.

The recipe comes to us via the good folks at Food and Wine magazine.  It was delicious exactly as they made it, but I couldn't help messing with it just a bit.  Of course, I added a bit more tahini, because Tahini!  I also cut back on the amount of olive oil, but we loved that drizzle on top.  I also added a few toasted pine nuts at the finish for some crunch and texture.  Mmmmmm.

And if you're a card-carrying member of the hummus police (we know you're out there), we're fine if you prefer to call this "avocado chickpea dip".  It's still gonna taste awesome.  Here's the recipe...

Avocado Hummus

This is such a deliciously luscious version of traditional chickpea hummus.  We loved the silky texture and lovely flavors that avocado brings to the party.  I added a little more tahini and less olive oil than the original recipe below, and I also added toasted pine nuts to finish the dish.  Good stuff.

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe adapted Food and Wine magazine

2 medium Hass avocados, peeled and roughly chopped
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons tahini sesame paste (I added closer to 2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling (I only used between 1/4 and 1/3 cup)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Assorted crudités, pita chips, crackers, bread or tortilla chips for serving

In a food processor, puree the avocados with the chickpeas, lemon juice and tahini. Add the 1/2 cup of oil and puree until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Transfer the dip to a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with freshly cracked pepper and toasted pine nuts.

Serve with crudites, crackers, bread or chips.

Click here to ask a question or leave a comment

Grilled Panzanella Salad with Roasted Peppers and Torn Mozzarella

I'm having a hard time imagining a more perfect summertime meal than this grilled panzanella salad.  I've made it numerous times this summer, switching up the ingredients and experimenting a bit.  And I'm here to tell you that there's just no way to mess this up.  It's just always good; grilled bread, you know?  

I've made it as a main course by adding a little grilled chicken, but it could most definitely be a main course without it.  I've made it with all grilled peppers and no tomatoes, I've added cucumbers and grilled zucchini,  and one time I used little bocconcini (small mozzarella balls in water) instead of the torn shards of fresh mozzarella.  We've loved every single incarnation, but I think I've settled on our favorite version, which is what I'm sharing with you today.

Our favorite version combines roasted peppers, fresh, juicy tomatoes, grilled bread and onions, fresh mozzarella, and either fresh parsley or basil.

If you've never had the good fortune of enjoying panzanella, it is truly one of those wondrous dishes that came to us from "poverty cuisine".  This one originates in Italy as far back as the 1500's.  Those smart cooks knew that they could extend the life of a loaf of bread by softening it in olive oil and tomato juices and combining it with whatever vegetables might be available.  It's somewhat similar to Fattoush, an Israeli/Lebanese salad that uses pita bread instead of a baguette, but I'm guessing it has similar origins.  All that to say... stale bread is very welcome here.

Yes, we've upped the panzanella game just a bit by grilling our bread and veggies and throwing in some fresh mozzarella, but the salad still offers up an earthy, homey experience that puts it squarely in the comfort food file for me.

Comfort food meets summertime grill meets summer veggies... here's the recipe...

Grilled Panzanella With Roasted Peppers and Torn Mozzarella

This is our favorite version of panzanella salad, which began with a recipe from Serious Eats.  I’ve made some changes to the recipe, but if you’d like to consult the original, you’ll find the link below.  Salting the tomatoes to extract their juice is crucial to this salad’s success, so don’t skip that part.  It’s also why you need to use very ripe tomatoes.  I used heirloom tomatoes that were very heavy and so delicious.  When the juices from the tomatoes mingle with the olive oil and soak into the bread, it really is quite heavenly.

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe adapted from Serious Eats

2 large very ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 bell peppers, cut into halves or thirds
1 large red onion, cut into 3/4-inch slices, each slice held together with 2 wooden skewers*
1 (1-pound) loaf day-old Italian bread, sliced into 1-inch thick slices
Lots of torn fresh mozzarella ( lots of little bocconcini)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Lots of fresh parsley or basil for serving

*  I didn't use the skewers, but sort of wished I had as I lost some of that gorgeous onion into the flames.  But if you're good with a spatula, you might pull it off without the skewers.

1. Toss tomato chunks with 1/2 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Set aside at room temperature. Brush peppers, red onion, and bread slices with 1/4 cup olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

2. Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to high and place peppers, and onions on grate. Cover and cook until first side is lightly charred, about 4 minutes. Flip, cover, and cook until charred on second side and vegetables are tender, about 4 minutes longer (depending on size of vegetables, some may take longer or shorter to cook. Remove from grill as they become tender). Transfer to cutting board and tent loosely with foil.

3. Meanwhile, grill bread until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to cutting board with vegetables cut bread and vegetables into rough 1-inch cubes and transfer to bowl with tomatoes. Add the remaining olive oil and vinegar.  Tear the mozzarella cheese into pieces and toss everything to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

To serve, sprinkle the salad with torn basil or parsley.

Click here to ask a question or leave a comment

Sesame Tahini Noodles

I'm having a bit of an obsession with tahini at the moment.  I want to put it in and on everything. Of course, it always goes into our hummus, right?  But if your jar of tahini sits in your fridge languishing between hummus feedings, then I'd say it's time to up your tahini game.

As I've been reading up on tahini recently, I've learned that all tahini pastes are not created equal. The very best are imported from the Middle East and are often carried in specialty stores or can be ordered online.

 I really like Trader Joe's tahini, but mainly what you're looking for is a smooth, velvety, loose texture.  You don't want something thick and pasty.  That pretty much means it's not so fresh. You're gonna want to pass on that. 

 Tahini makes an awesome dip (add a little lemon juice, salt and pepper) or salad dressing (here are a couple of awesome recipes for that).  You can even use it to make cookies (think peanut butter cookies without the peanut butter).  I use it as a dressing in this scrumptious farro dish and I love to stir it into brown rice with a little squirt of lemon and harissa (that's also good as a crudite dip).

Oh, but these noodles...

... so very good. You can completely customize them and add whatever and however many veggies you would like to include, or leave them out entirely.  Your call.  Shrimp or chicken would also be a nice addition.  It's really all about the tahini, so here's the recipe...

Sesame Tahini Noodles

Click here for a printable recipe

I didn't make too many changes to this scrumptious recipe other than to switch up the veggies a bit.  I blanched some green beans, red peppers, broccoli and baby zucchini, which made this basically a one-pan meal.  I also swapped out the Sriracha for Harissa which I'm putting on just about everything these days. You can leave out the veggies entirely or add shrimp or chicken if you like.  This is a totally versatile dish that highlights the particular deliciousness of tahini.

Recipe Adapted from Food 52

Serves 4-6

1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup tahini
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced (I used 2 cloves)
3 tablespoons agave syrup
1/4 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons Sriracha (I used Harissa)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Noodles and toppings: (see headnote)
1 pound dried spaghetti
2 carrots, peeled and grated (I didn't add these)
2 cups fresh green beans, blanched in salted water, chopped
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced (I left this out)

And I added...
Toasted sesame seeds and a couple of sliced scallions for topping


Boil a large pot of salted water and cook the pasta in it until desired toothsomeness is achieved, about 10 minutes.

While the pasta cooks, combine dressing ingredients in a blender or processor and pulse until creamy.

Add the dressing to the warm, drained pasta and veggies and top with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds and sliced scallions.

Twice-Baked Potatoes Mexican-Style

This is what happens when you can’t think of a thing to cook for dinner, don’t really feel like tackling anything fussy or complicated, time is short, and hunger is closing in.  Earlier on the day in question, I had it in my mind to make like this Mexican hash with chorizo and all kinds of fun and interesting ingredients.  But, alas, I was inexplicably unable to gather the required ambition to get it done.  I got out the potatoes and that’s about as far as I got.  

A while later I walked back into the kitchen, saw those potatoes sitting on the counter and decided that baked potatoes sounded like a perfectly lovely dinner.  But wouldn’t a twice-baked potato stuffed with cheese be even better?  But wait, wouldn’t a Mexican stuffed potato be EVEN better??  The answer, my friends, was and still is a resounding YES!  

I don’t know if these were like the best thing we’ve eaten in a while because serendipity sort of took over our meal planning, or because they’re just basically one of the best things we’ve eaten in a while.  Yes, that last one.  

And they couldn’t be easier to put together (or they wouldn’t have happened on the night in question).  You’ll need 1 or 2 potatoes per person, depending on the size of your potatoes and the appetites of your persons.  Also you will need a little ground meat, some onion and sour cream, some black beans, some sliced olives, cheese, and some Mexican seasonings (I used our homemade taco seasoning).  After baking the potatoes, I scooped them out, mashed the potatoes and stirred in all the aforementioned items. Then that all went back into the skins and topped with more cheese.  Those were baked until hot and bubbly and melty.

(There really were 4 halves, but only 3 made it into the photo.  I can't remember why.)

To finish them I spooned some salsa over the melted cheese, sliced some avocados and green onions and then mixed some sour cream and sriracha, thinned with a little milk, and drizzled that over the very top.  Is this what they mean by follow your bliss?

One last thing… There are two ways to go about eating your stuffed potato.  You can cut nice little bites, combining skin and stuffing with each bite, which is sort of OK and a very common approach to eating a twice-baked potato.  Except in my world.  The preferred method is to first scoop out and eat the stuffing and then when that’s gone, pick up the skin and munch away.  There will still be little bits of stuffing in there, and the skin will be a little crispy on the outside because you slathered it with olive oil and salt before baking them.  This is most assuredly the preferred method, but if you want to pick up the whole thing and eat it out of hand, stuffing and all, no one here’s going to judge.  Here’s the recipe…

Mexican Twice-Baked Potatoes

Click here for a printable recipe

You will end up with more stuffing than you can fit into the potatoes, but it's super delicious reheated for lunch, or you can top the leftovers with a fried egg or two and some hot sauce for another easy weeknight meal.  If you have Mexican crema handy, use that to make the sriracha crema instead of the the milk and sour cream.

Serves 2-3

2 large russet potatoes
1/2 pound ground beef or turkey
1/2 cup sliced black olives (or 1 small 4 oz can)

1/4 of a medium onion, diced small
1 (13.5 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 tablespoons taco seasoning (here’s my recipe)
2 cups cheddar cheese

Sriracha Crema:

1/3 cup sour cream
1 to 2 tablespoons of sriracha (depending on how spicy you'd like it)
2 tablespoons of milk (or enough to make it thin enough to drizzle)

To serve: salsa, avocado, thinly-sliced scallions, sriracha crema

Heat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Scrub the potatoes clean and prick all over with a fork. Rub them all over with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange the potatoes on the baking sheet and bake for an hour.  Allow to cool enough to handle.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the filling. Warm a little vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the diced onion and saute until soft, about 5-10 minutes.  Add the ground meat and taco seasoning and cook until it’s thoroughly browned, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the black beans, and cook until warmed through, another couple of minutes. Remove the pan from heat.

When the potatoes are cooked and have cooled just enough to handle, cut them in half and scoop out the insides, creating a hollowed-out shell about 1/4-inch thick. Arrange the shells in rows on the baking sheet.

Combine the potato insides and the sour cream in a large bowl. Mash until the sour cream is fully incorporated and the potatoes are creamy (add more sour cream for a richer filling). Fold in 1 cup of the cheese and the ground meat mixture.

Divide the mashed potato filling evenly between the potato shells (there will be more stuffing than you need).  Sprinkle the tops with the remaining cheese.

Return the potatoes to the oven and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the potatoes are soft and melty.  Cool briefly, then top with a little salsa, sliced scallions, sliced avocado and a drizzle of the sriracha crema.