Archives for the month of: January, 2012

Growing up, I ate a lot of banana bread. My mom always kept bananas in the house for us to bring to lunch or have for breakfast.  But the thing is, we hardly ever actually ate them. So come the weekend, we’d have banana bread! I suspect the real reason my mom bought bananas was to make bread with them, and if one of us kids happened to eat one along the way, then great.

Now that I’m all grown up and buying my own food, I do the exact same thing.  I’ve just gotten used to always having bananas on the counter, because I really don’t like them. I try to eat them all, but inevitably one or two get over ripe.  So I throw them in a ziplock bag and freeze them until I have enough for a big batch of banana bread.

Banana bread is an awesomely straightforward breakfast to make on the weekend. When you’re all groggy in the morning you don’t want to make something finicky and complicated. For this recipe you simply mix wet ingredients, mix the dry ingredients, mix them together, then you throw it in the oven and go back to bed for an hour. Easy peasy.

This recipe is an adaption of a more traditional banana nut bread recipe. I use 2:1 ratio of flour to cornmeal and include dried fruit along with walnuts. The addition of the cornmeal and dried fruits makes this bread more substantial and a little less cake-like. I tend to like hardier breakfast over pastries and this is reflected in this version of banana bread.


Dry Ingredients:
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Wet Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional)
  • 1/4 cup dried coconut (optional)


  1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, baking soda and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Mix in the optional nuts and dried fruit at this point.
  4.  Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean.

Mussels and Fries

While I was in Philadelphia over the holidays, I had dinner at a charming pub called Monk’s Cafe that served “Belgium’s national dish” – pots of mussels in savory sauce with fries. The combination of flavors, complemented by a good beer, was inspired.  I had many tasty bites while I was visiting Philly, but I kept thinking about this dish.

Since coming back to Berkeley, I happened upon a recipe for mussels that sounded very similar to dish I had at Monks. Still drooling at the memory of that dinner in Philly, I decided to try it out. I was a little nervous about cooking mussels for the first time, but this dish was surprisingly easy. I’m also happy to report that it’s just a good at as the mussels I had in Philadelphia. I’m generally not a fan of seafood but this recipe is a true exception.

The fries I made to accompany the mussels are probably the easiest at-home fries that you can possibly make. They take a little longer than traditional deep-fried potatoes, but they’re much less messy and a lot healthier.  The trick with these baked fries is the two-step baking process, which replicates the two-step frying process of truly delicious deep-fried fries. The fries are baked at a high temperature to cook and brown them, and then baked for another period at a lower temperature to dry them out because nobody likes soggy fries.

You’ll want the fries and the mussels to finish at the same time. To time everything perfectly, prep everything you’ll need to cook the mussels and when you have about 15 minutes left on the fries, start the pot of mussels.

Recipes from The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider

Baked Fries:

  • 2-3 large baking potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt to taste

Baked Fries

Savory Mussel Stew:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 shallots
  • pinch of hot pepper flakes
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 1/2 pounds mussels, scrubbed
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 Tbs. butter

Pot of Mussels

I found it quite good to pull the mussels out of the shell and let them soak in the broth. Don’t forget to enjoy this meal with good beer!


How to Roast Beets

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