Caramelized Banana Bread with Browned Butter Glaze

Our very favorite recipe for banana bread comes from the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook and it is absolutely amazing. However, that recipe calls for six bananas, and we only had three on hand and really wanted to make some good banana bread. So, after browsing through a couple of issues of Cooking Light, we found this bread. It did not disappoint! Banana slices are caramelized with butter and brown sugar, and mixed in with a few other ingredients, one of them rum (unfortunately, we don’t really keep rum around, so we just added 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract). For the glaze, butter is browned in a pan (this gives it a caramel sort of flavor) and mixed with powdered sugar and half-and-half. What’s not to love? This banana bread is awesome- and even though it’s from Cooking Light, it is definitely not light (1/16 of the loaf is 190 calories. This loaf totally only makes 8 servings in our opinion!). But, for a special occasion, it is a delicious way to start the day.

Caramelized Banana Bread with Browned Butter Glaze

Recipe from Cooking Light (September 2012)

Serves 8-10 (this all depends on your definition of a slice!)


4 tablespoons butter, divided

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

3 medium ripe bananas, sliced

1/2 cup fat-free buttermilk

3 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons amber or gold rum (or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract)

2 large eggs

9 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons half-and-half


Preheat oven to 350°.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add brown sugar and bananas; sauté 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; cool 10 minutes. Place banana mixture in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.

Combine buttermilk and next 3 ingredients (through eggs). Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately to banana mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat at low speed just until combined. Scrape batter into a 9 x 5-inch metal loaf pan coated with baking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool for 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan, and cool on wire rack.

Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook 3 minutes or until butter begins to brown (be careful at this step- a few extra seconds and the butter can go from browned to burned); remove from heat. Add powdered sugar and half-and-half, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Drizzle glaze over bread. Let stand until glaze sets. Enjoy!

Fresh Fruit Tart

Summer, sadly, is over. But on the off chance you still have some fresh fruit sitting around, you should definitely make this tart. If you are unable to accept that fall (which is a great season, but marks the start of school) is here, it may make you forget for a moment that it is eight more months until summer! Don’t worry, if you are totally thrilled that it’s fall, we have some pumpkin recipes coming your way in the next couple of weeks. But in the mean time, this tart serves as a perfectly delicious dessert! We all loved it.

P.S. We were running a little low on fruit, so there is less on ours than there should be. We feel that it would have benefited from more fruit, and the recipe below will note the proper amount that you should use.

Fresh Fruit Tart

Serves about 8

Recipe via Baking Illustrated

Tart Crust:
1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
8 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Pastry cream:
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch salt
5 large egg yolks
3 tbsp. cornstarch
4 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large kiwis, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced
6-9 oz. raspberries
1/2-1 cup blueberries (We just used all raspberries, because that is what we had on hand)
Apple jelly, for glazing

To make the tart shell, whisk together the egg yolk, cream and vanilla in a small bowl; set aside.  Place the 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 dish.  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 tart pan on a large plate and freeze for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to middle position.  Preheat the oven to 375° F.  Set the dough-lined tart 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 pastry cream, heat the half-and-half, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.  Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until the sugar has begun to dissolve and the mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds.  Whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 30 seconds.

When the half-and-half mixture has reached a simmer, slowly add it to the egg yolk mixture to temper, whisking constantly.  Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Return the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds.  Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla.  Strain the pastry cream through a  fine mesh sieve set over a medium bowl.  Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

To assemble the tart, spread the cold pastry cream evenly over the bottom of the tart shell.  Arrange the fruit on top of the pastry cream as desired.  Heat the jelly in the microwave for 20-30 seconds, just until slightly melted and easy to stir.  Using a pastry brush, paint a light layer of jelly over the fresh fruit.

Side Note: Baking Illustrated recommends serving immediately, to prevent the fruit from causing the crust to get soggy. We had some the next day, and found it to taste just as good (the pastry cream possibly tasted better chilled). It is likely that if you used more fruit than us you would have this problem, but honestly, we don’t think it’s too much of a concern.

Tex-Mex Pimiento Cheese Dip

We’ve made this delicious dip twice now, once for our family to enjoy and once for a friend’s party. Both times it was awesome and eaten very quickly! This dip has similar flavors to that jarred queso dip, but this is so much better. It doesn’t have that gluey texture that store bought dips have, just creamy, cheesy goodness. Trust us, you will have zero self control over this dip. We served ours with plain corn chips, but it would probably also be great spread on toasted baguette slices as well.

Tex-Mex Pimiento Cheese Dip

Recipe slightly adapted from Annie’s Eats

Serves 8-12


½ cup mayonnaise (we used low fat)
6 oz. cream cheese (again, we used low fat
¾ cup diced pimientos (they can be found in most supermarkets)
2 jalapeño peppers, ribbed, seeded and minced
2-3 scallions, chopped
1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
8 oz. pepper jack cheese, shredded
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste


Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well with a spatula until evenly combined.  Spread the mixture in an even layer in a 2-quart casserole dish.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and bubbling.  Remove from the oven, garnish with additional cilantro, and serve warm.

Note: try to avoid using pre-shredded cheese as when it melts the texture is not as smooth as it should be, due to anti-caking agents.

Chewy Sugar Cookies

Sugar cookies are often underrated, and while we agree that sometimes all you need is a warm chocolate chip cookie, these definitely are a close second or third in the list of the best cookies ever. They are chewy, and have a nice buttery flavor. Just ignore the fact that there is butter, cream cheese, and vegetable oil all in one recipe!

After receiving a bunch of bags of M&Ms from the magazine drive at our school, we used them by adding some to about half of the dough. We did not roll those in sugar, because we thought that they would be sweet enough just from the addition of the M&Ms, but you could certainly roll them in sugar if you would like a more traditional crackled sugar cookie top!

Chewy Sugar Cookies

Recipe via Cook’s Illustrated

Makes about 24 cookies


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces (We used reduced fat, and they were fine, but for an even richer cookie you can use full fat)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and still warm

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon whole milk (We used 1% milk, but it’s up to you which fat percentage of milk to use)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Place 1 1/2 cups sugar and cream cheese in a large bowl. Place remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a shallow baking dish or pie plate and set aside. Pour warm butter over sugar and cream cheese and whisk to combine (some small lumps of cream cheese will remain but will smooth out later). Whisk in oil until incorporated. Add egg, milk, and vanilla; continue to whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture and mix with rubber spatula until soft, homogenous dough forms.

Working with two tablespoons of dough at a time, roll into balls. Working in batches, roll half of dough balls in sugar to coat and set on prepared baking sheet; repeat with remaining dough balls. Using bottom of greased measuring cup, flatten dough balls until 2 inches in diameter. Sprinkle tops of cookies evenly with sugar remaining in shallow dish for rolling, using 2 teaspoons for each baking sheet (discard remaining sugar).

Bake 1 sheet at a time until edges of cookies are set and beginning to brown, 11 to 13 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes; transfer cookies to wire rack and let cool to room temperature.

Side Note: Add about 1 cup of M&Ms to dough to make the M&M version. Rolling in sugar is optional.

Pasta e Fagioli

Our dad recently mentioned how much he liked  Pasta e Fagioli. His grandmother used to make it, and it was one of his favorites. Because Cook’s Illustrated is basically the best cookbook ever, and they had a recipe, we knew we had to try it. This soup did not disappoint! Without being heavy, it managed to have a rich and hearty flavor. This soup is fast to prepare (from start to finish, it takes only about 45 minutes) and the results are so good. We plan to make this many more times throughout the winter, because of its quick and delicious results. Nothing is better than a warm bowl of soup with some bread to dip on a cold day!
Pasta e Fagioli

Serves 8-10

Recipe via Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

3 slices bacon, chopped fine

1 onion, chopped fine

1 celery rib, chopped fine

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced

1 (28-0unce) can diced tomatoes

1 Parmesan cheese rind

2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed

3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

2 1/2 cups water

Salt and Pepper

1 cup orzo

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)


Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3-5 minutes. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, pepper flakes, and anchovies and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Add Parmesan rind and beans and bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer to blend flavors, 10 minutes.

Add chicken broth, water, and t teaspoon salt to pot. Increase heat to high and bring to boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes.

Remove and discard Parmesan rind. Off heat, stir in three tablespoons parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle soup into bowls, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with remaining parsley. Serve immediately, passing grated Parmesan separately.

Side note: We recommend eating this immediately, since the pasta absorbs a lot of the liquid and it becomes less brothy the day after. It still tastes good, though!

Buttermilk Crumb Muffins

These muffins are certainly not beauty queens, but after one bite you will understand why we are posting about them. They are personally my (Celine’s) favorite muffin ever, which is saying something since we make tons of muffins (probably at 2-3 flavors a month!). We have occasionally brought them in to school for a homeroom breakfast treat, and they are always very happily received and eaten! These are not anywhere near healthy, because of the large quantities of butter and sugar, but that’s what makes them good! They are perfectly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg and topped with a yummy streusel. The edges get crunchy, and the cake is tender and delicate. There is, in my opinion, no better muffin than this. Plus, they are perfect for fall!

Buttermilk Crumb Muffins

Recipe slightly adapted from Baking with Julia Cookbook

Yields about 16 muffins


2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 cups (packed) light brown sugar

2/3 cup butter, firm from the fridge

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

2 large eggs, well beaten


Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°. Line muffin pans with liners or grease well with butter or baking spray.

Put the flour and brown sugar into a a large bowl and stir with your fingers or a fork to mix well. Break the butter into a few pieces, drop them into the flour mixture, and, using your fingertips, lightly rub the butter and flour together. When the mixture looks like coarse bread crumbs, you’ve mixed enough- don’t worry about any little lumps. Measure out 1/2 cup of the mixture and set it aside to use later as the crumb topping.

Add the baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt to the flour mixture and stir with a fork to mix well. Add the buttermilk and beaten eggs and, using a large spoon, mix until the ingredients are well blended and the batter is thick and shiny.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling each cup at least two-thirds full. Sprinkle the top of each muffin with a rounded teaspoon of the reserved crumb mixture and pat it gently onto the batter.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Serve warm and enjoy!

Asparagus Bacon Hash

Often times potato hashes or pan-fried potatoes are bland chunks of potato that are undercooked and dull. However, this version is a real improvement! The potatoes are cut pretty small so they cook fast and are filled with flavor. It’s a relatively simple dish, too; only asparagus, bacon, onion, and potatoes. It made an excellent lunch, but it would also be good for breakfast served with eggs. You should definitely try this dish sometime soon!

Asparagus Bacon Hash

Recipe via Elly Says Opa

Serves: 2-3

1/4 lb. bacon, cut into 1/4″ dice
1 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into a 1/2″ dice
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
1/2 lb.asparagus, tough ends trimmed and cut into 1″ pieces

Heat a 12″  pan over medium heat. Fry the bacon, turning it frequently so that it browns and crisps on all sides, about 8-10 minutes. Remove it with a slotted spoon and drain it on paper towels. Leave the heat on and the renderings in the pan. If necessary, add a tablespoon or two of olive oil.

Add the potatoes to the pan. Season with salt and pepper, but don’t stir for a couple of minutes. Once the potatoes have gotten a little brown underneath, begin flipping and turning them, then letting them cook again for a few minutes.

When the potatoes are about 3/4 as crisped and brown as you’d like them, about 15 minutes, add the onion.  Cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add the asparagus, cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, or until crisply cooked. Remove the lid, return the bacon to the pan for another minute, to reheat. Season with salt and pepper.

Chocolate Swirl Buns

When Annie over at Annie’s Eats posted about these buns two days ago, we knew we had to make them! They are a mini version of chocolate babka, minus the streusel. We worked at a retirement home over the summer, and they often served babka. It was purchased from a frozen food supplier and was not nearly as appetizing as these. We wish we could make these for all the residents so that they could get a taste of the good stuff!

It’s quite important to use the best chocolate you can find for these, because the chocolate is the focal point of this treat. The filling is made in the food processor, which makes it simple to whip up.

The base of these buns is tender and delicious brioche dough, which we can imagine would make excellent cinnamon rolls in the future. One thing we have to note about these is that is easy to let them overcook- the top looks lighter than the sides and the bottom. A few of ours got a little too brown, but they still tasted good!

Chocolate Swirl Buns

Recipe from Annie’s Eats

Makes 12 Buns


For the dough:
½ cup whole milk, 105-110˚ F
¼ cup  granulated sugar
2 tsp. instant (rapid rise) yeast
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 cups  all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the filling:
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (We used 70% dark chocolate)
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature

To finish:
1 large egg beaten with 1 tbsp. milk or cream


In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the milk, sugar, and yeast and stir to blend.  Add the egg, flour, and salt, and mix on low speed until a sticky dough begins to form.  Mix in the butter until incorporated.  Using the dough hook, knead on low speed for 10 minutes.  (The dough will still appear loose and quite sticky, but it will firm up as it rises.)

Transfer the dough to a bowl greased with butter and cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel.  Let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the filling.  Combine the chocolate, sugar, and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor.  Process in pulses until the chocolate is finely chopped with some parts almost powdery.  Add the butter and pulse again until incorporated.

Generously butter the wells of a muffin tin.  Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a well floured work surface and gently deflate.  Let rest for 5 minutes.  Roll into a very large rectangle, about 12 x 20 inches, sprinkling with flour as needed to prevent sticking.

Sprinkle the filling over the surface of the dough.  Tightly roll the dough up into a log, encasing the filling in a spiral pattern.

Use a sharp serrated knife to slice the log into 12 equal pieces.  Place each slice into the prepared muffin tin, with the cut side facing up. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Lightly brush the tops of the buns with egg wash.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.  Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool briefly.  Gently unmold the buns and let cool until just warm.  Serve warm.

Side Note: We made a double batch in order to have some to freeze, which explains why there are five chocolate bars in the picture above!

Mini Pretzel Dogs

You may have gotten a pretzel dog at the mall before- we certainly have. They are always so good! But we can say that these are definitely better than those. The pretzel dough is delicious and makes something special out of something un-special like hot dogs. They are delicious served with a little mustard warm out of the oven. These are perfect for serving as an appetizer at a party or just for a tasty and kid-friendly dinner any day of the week! And a plus is that the dough is easy to work with- not sticky or too soft to form into the right shape. Look at it:

Pretzel Dogs

Recipe from Joy the Baker

makes 16 pretzel dogs


1 ½ cups warm water (between 110 and 115 degrees F)

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 ¼ teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast

22 ounces all-purpose flour (about 4 1/2 cups)

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

8 hot dogs, cut in half

about 14 cups of water

1 cup baking soda

1 large egg, beaten, with a splash of water

salt and pepper for topping

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine warm water and sugar.  Sprinkle the yeast on top of the water and set aside for 5 minutes.  The mixture will begin to foam and froth.

Once the yeast and water is frothy, add the flour, salt, and melted butter.  Using the dough hook, mix on low speed until well combined.  Increase the speed to medium and knead the dough until it is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, creating a ball of dough around the dough hook.  Beat on medium speed for approximately 4 minutes.

Remove the dough from the bowl.  The dough will be soft, pliable, and just a bit sticky.   Scrape any residue out of the bowl and coat the bowl with a bit of vegetable oil.  Place the dough back in the bowl, sprinkle with flour, cover with plastic wrap, and store in a warm place to rise.  Allow dough to rise, until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Place baking racks in the center and upper third of the oven.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and lightly brush the paper with oil.

Combine water and baking soda in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.

While the water comes to a boil, turn the dough out onto a clean, slightly oiled work surface.  Divide dough into 16 pieces.

Start with the fingers of both hands in the center of the dough, and roll, moving your hands outward as you roll.  Roll the dough along the oiled surface until you have about a 12-inch piece of rope.

Wrap pretzel around a hot dog, making sure to seal the ends.

When water has come to a boil, gently lower a few pretzel dogs into the boiling water.  Boil for 30 seconds.  Remove carefully, using a flat, slotted spatula.  Place on prepared baking sheet.  Brush boiled pretzels with beaten egg, and add coarse sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

Bake until deeply golden brown, about 12 to 14 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack for a few minutes before serving warm.

Peach Crumb Bars

A couple of weeks ago, we made a raspberry-blueberry version of these bars and really liked them. When we saw the peach version, we knew we had to make them! These bars have a couple wonderful elements that all add up to a perfectly delicious treat. The crust is lemony from the zest and the peach filling is both tart and sweet at the same time. They are relatively easy- cutting up the peaches is the most time-consuming part. This dessert is perfect and summery, and we wish we had made them earlier- peaches are practically finished for the season now! Give these bars a try and you won’t be disappointed.

Peach Crumb Bars

Recipe from Annie’s Eats

1½ cups sugar, divided
1 tsp. baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. salt
Zest of half a lemon
16 tbsp. cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1 large egg
5 cups peeled, chopped peaches (about 5 peaches) (We didn’t peel our peaches, and it didn’t make a difference since peach peel is soft)
5 tsp. cornstarch
Juice of 1 lemon
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375° F.  Grease a 9 x 13″ pan; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup of the sugar, the baking powder and flour.  Mix in the salt and the lemon zest, and stir together with a fork.  Cut in the butter and egg with a pastry blender until the largest chunks are about pea-sized.  The mixture should be crumbly without much loose flour.  Spread about half of the dough mixture in an even layer over the bottom of the prepared pan and press down firmly to form the bottom crust.

In another bowl, stir together the remaining sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and nutmeg.  Gently mix in the peaches with a rubber spatula until combined.  Sprinkle the fruit mixture evenly over the crust.  (Note: Because my peaches were overly ripe, they were floating in a bowl of juice.  I used a slotted spoon to transfer the fruit to the baking dish, discarding most of the excess juice, to prevent the crust from getting soggy.)  Crumble the remaining dough over the top of the peaches.

Bake for about 45 minutes or until the top is slightly golden brown.  Cool completely before cutting into squares and serving.

Side note: These are best eaten on the day they are made, since peaches are so juicy and can make the crust soggy. But they still taste good the second day!