Monday, April 29, 2013

Julia's Best Banana Bread

I've said this before, but I love baking on Sunday afternoons. I love just being at home, getting things done around the house and relaxing before starting another week. Baking is productive but also relaxing, and I love how warm bread or granola gives our house this delicious, inviting smell. Hands down the most frequent baked good that comes out of my oven is banana bread. I've shared quite a few banana bread recipes in this space, but I've found yet another favorite. The top of this one bakes until it's a little crispy, giving it this delicious almost caramelized sugary taste on the top and sealing in the moistness of the bread. Please eat this fresh out of the oven and let yourself forget for a few moments that Monday is here.

Julia's Best Banana Bread
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2-3)
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9x5-inch loaf pain with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk eggs, sugar, bananas, and oil in a large bowl until smooth. Add dry ingredients to banana mixture and stir just until combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top.

Bake until a tester inserted into the center of bread comes out clean, 60-70 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let bread cool in pan for 15 minutes. Run a knife around inside of pan to release bread. Turn out onto rack and let cool completely. 

source: recipe from Bon App├ętit, March 2013

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Granola Bars

I make granola all the time, but I had never tried granola bars. I was afraid they would be too hard or get burnt, but this recipe turned out perfectly. Granola bars are actually less time-consuming than granola because you don't have to take the granola out of the oven and stir it every 10 minutes, like most granola recipes. These bars ended up chewy and delicious--something I was quite surprised by. We finished them in several days and Caleb has already asked me to make them again.

Chewy Coconut Granola Bars
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup oat flour (make oat flour by putting oats in a spice grinder, food processor, or blender)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp ground flaxseed meal
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp honey
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 Tbsp fresh orange juice

Place a rack in the center of the oven and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking dish with foil so that foil hangs over the edges of the pan. Butter the foil. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine oats, oat flour, sugar, flaxseed meal, salt, cinnamon, coconut, and cranberries.

In a small bowl, whisk together honey, melted butter, and orange juice. Pour over the flour mixture and toss together with a fork. The mixture will be dry but sticky. Blend together until all of the dry ingredients are moistened by the honey mixture.

Dump out oat mixture into prepared baking dish. With clean, slightly oiled fingers, press the oat mixture into the dish until tight and solid in the pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until browned around the edges. The baked granola will still be soft even after it's fully baked, but will harden as it cools.

Removed baked granola from the oven and cool for 30 minutes. Place the baking dish in the refrigerator for about an hour before slicing. This will help to further cool the bars and keep them from crumbling when sliced.

Use the overhanging foil flaps to remove the baked granola. Use a large, sharp knife to cut block into 12 bars. Wrap individually in plastic wrap and store in airtight jar. Granola bars will last, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

source: adapted from Joy the Baker Cookbook

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Weekend

This past weekend we were in Baltimore for my aunt's wedding. We headed up to Virginia on Thursday night to break up the trip a little, and then went on to Maryland on Friday. We were able to spend Friday with my grandparents, which was wonderful. We don't get to see them that much, and we really treasure any time we get to spend with either of our grandparents. It was also fun to have all six of our nieces and nephews on my side all together! Saturday was the wedding and almost all of my mom's entire family was there. It was a great day being with family and celebrating with my aunt, and my grandparents were so thrilled to have so many family members all in one room, including all 13 great-grandchildren!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Book Review: Freefall to Fly

A few weeks ago I was asked to read and review Freefall to Fly, a new memoir by Rebekah Lyons. (By the way, how gorgeous is that cover?! I LOVE Dana Tanamachi's work!) Rebekah's memoir hits on themes that are common among many women: loneliness, anxiety, depression, fear, contentment, etc. Rebekah's family moves from suburban Georgia to the heart of Manhattan, and she struggles deeply with the transition. I found her vulnerability and honesty throughout the book refreshing: she doesn't sugar-coat her shortcomings--her lack of joy, the pressure to perform, her failures in mothering and marriage. She begins her journey filled with panic, anxiety, and depression, but as she struggles through questions of meaning and purpose, she finds her calling in a place of recognizing her giftedness and meeting others' needs with those gifts. This book was an easy read: I sat down in an afternoon and read the whole thing. Her honesty grabbed my attention, and I wanted to hear her story. But, I didn't feel that the book offered much more than one woman's story. I wouldn't use this as a guide or resource for helping others get through their own struggles with loneliness, depression, or anxiety. It would be worth reading if you're wanting to hear another woman's journey through her struggles, but it's not a 5-star read in my opinion.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Our Entertainment Center

Just this week something very exciting happened around here: Caleb finished building our entertainment center! Yes, Caleb designed, built, and dyed that beautiful piece of furniture on his own! This is only Caleb's third piece of furniture (he built the nighstands for our guest room); didn't it turn out so well? There's more pictures of the process after the jump, if you'd like to see...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Read: Bread & Wine

I love reading books that are authentic: that are true to real life, that make me feel something, that I resonante with. Because of this I've really gotten into reading memoirs over the last couple of years. My love for cooking has made me especially fond of food memoirs, and I recently finished Bread & Wine. It reminds me of A Homemade Life: good recipes and heartfelt essays about life around those recipes. Shauna takes some of her go-to recipes and shares the stories of life and friendship and family that revolve around each of those recipes. The recipes all look good, but I really loved how transparent she was in writing about life. She shared the struggle of balancing work and family, the heartache over her miscarriage, the shame of feeling overweight and eating all the time. The entire tone of the book is straight-forward and honest, and I love that. It's also her philosophy in cooking and entertaining, that it "isn't a sport or competition. It's an act of love, if you let it be. You can twist and turn it into anything you want--a way to show off your house, a way to compete with your friends, a way to earn love and approval. Or you can decide that every time you open your door, it's an act of love, not performance or competition or striving. You can decide that every time people gather around your table, your goal is nourishment, not neurotic proving." The entire book is a celebration of both food and life, and it was a beautiful read. It just came out yesterday and you can buy it here!

Note: I received this book from the publisher for reviewing purposes, but this opinion is 100% my own. I really liked this book!

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Weekend

The weekends are never quite long enough, wouldn't you agree? We couldn't have asked for better weather this weekend, and we just soaked it up. Saturday we headed to a little town I had read about in Southern Living for their annual spring jubilee. We moseyed around looking at the different vendors' wares, people watching, and lunched on the lawn (hot dog for me, BBQ for Caleb). We spent a fair share of our weekend out on the deck, soaking up the rays and enjoying the blooming flowers and blossoming trees. I am just so thankful spring is here! Sunday we worked on getting some things around the house done and I did a little baking. I'm not quite ready for another Monday morning, but the forecast of temperatures in the 80s this week makes it just a bit better.

Friday, April 5, 2013

5 Things

Colleen tagged me to share 5 things, so here goes! If you're a blogger and haven't done this as it's made the rounds, then I tag you:) Have a great weekend!

1. I'm always late. I have the clock in my car set 4 minutes fast so that when I'm rushing to wherever I'm supposed to be, I feel a teeny bit better having those 4 extra minutes built in. My dad has always set his car clock fast, and I just found out one of my sisters does too. This drives all of our spouses crazy. Caleb seriously cannot figure out what time it is when we take my car, and earlier this week he changed my clock to be the "normal" time, and I was late for work. Of course.

2. I like the smell of skunks. Not like I want one to spray me, but if we're driving down the road and there's a faint-to-medium skunk smell, I like it. Weird, I know.

3. The summer after I finished college I went to China with the U.S. State Department for a three-month intensive Chinese language and culture immersion program. I didn't know anyone in my group of 30, and we had to sign a contract stating we wouldn't speak English all summer. The days leading up to it I was SO nervous, more nervous than I had ever been about a single experience. But it turned out to be one of the best experiences I've ever had--I learned so much and LOVED every minute of it.

4. When I was little I was kind of a disaster. I was always breaking something or spilling something, my room was a complete mess, and I saved everything in little piles/boxes in my closet. My dad called me "Carrie-less" because I was so careless all the time. Now I'm 180 degrees the opposite. I periodically purge our house and throw everything away. I'm a neat freak and have quite a few OCD tendencies. I don't know what happened, but something just snapped!

5. Sushi, bleu cheese, and Greek yogurt: I don't like these foods. I feel like I'm supposed to because everyone else does, but I've tried to make myself and I just don't. Please don't make me eat them if you have me over.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Strawberry Cream Cheese Tart

I hope you had a wonderful Easter weekend! Caleb was sick last week, so we were thankful for a 3-day weekend for him to catch up on some rest and get back to feeling normal. We had a pretty low-key weekend at home: relaxing, getting a few things done, watching a movie, getting outside to enjoy the pretty weather, etc. We finished the weekend with a nice Easter lunch with some friends after church. My contribution was dessert, so I made this tart that has been on my "to-make" list for over a year now. I was pleased with how it turned out--it's a nice, light dessert that's perfect for spring or summer.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Tart
for the crust:
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups flour, plus more for dusting
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 tsp salt
8 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

for the ganache:
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature

for the filling:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp milk or cream

for the topping:
fresh strawberries, sliced (approximately 12 oz)
melted bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, for drizzling (optional)

To make the tart shell, whisk together the egg yolk, cream and vanilla in a small bowl; set aside. Place flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Process briefly to combine. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture; process to cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about fifteen 1-second pulses. With the machine running, add the egg mixture and process until the dough just comes together, about 12 seconds. Turn the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and press into a 6-inch disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 48 hours.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. (If refrigerated for more than an hour, let stand at room temperature until malleable.) Unwrap and roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to a 13-inch round. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch tart pan. Mold the dough to the sides of the tart pan and remove the excess off the top. Set the dough-lined pan on a large plat and freeze for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to middle position. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Set the dough-lined pan on a baking sheet, press a 12-inch square of foil into the frozen shell and over the edge, and fill with pie weights. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time. Remove from the oven and carefully remove the foil and weights. Continue to bake until deep golden brown, 5-8 minutes longer. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

To make the ganache, place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Let sit 1-2 minutes to melt the chocolate. Whisk together until a smooth ganache forms. If there are still bits of unmelted chocolate, microwave in 10-second intervals, whisking in between, until the ganache is completely smooth. Whisk in the butter. Spread the ganache in a thin even layer over the bottom of the cooled tart shell. Allow the ganache to set before proceeding.

To make the filling, beat together the cream cheese and confectioners' sugar in a bowl on medium-high speed until smooth. Blend in the vanilla and milk or cream. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the cooled ganache in the tart shell. Starting from the outside and working toward the center, place the sliced strawberries in concentric circles. Gently press the berries into the cream cheese mixture to help keep them in place. Drizzle with melted chocolate, if desired. Chill until ready to serve. Serves 8.

source: recipe from annie's eats