Easy Banana Cake

We love bananas! Fresh bananas, baked bananas, banana split, bananas dipped in chocolate, you name it! But the good old faithful Banana Bread took a new turn when I was introduced to Banana Cake with Lemon Icing.  This recipe is a great way to use up bananas that are over ripe but not yet ready for the compost heap.  Did you know: Bananas can also be frozen and then the flesh used to make banana bread or cake at a later date?  Not sure who came up with that…I think it was me 🙂 as we had a whole bunch that ripened very quickly in the gorgeous heat last summer and I couldn’t bake them quickly enough.DSC_0047

This is my favourite banana cake recipe.  It is plain and simple and everything gets added to the same bowl so not much washing up at all – no separate sieving or creaming – excellent!

It can be baked in a 21cm loaf or ring tin but I prefer to make this one in a small 26 cm x 18 cm rectangle tin as when iced and cut into squares, it is just the right size for little hands and perfect for lunch box or afternoon tea treats.

ingredients
1-1½ cups ripe, mashed banana (about 3 bananas)
½ cup light vegetable oil (I like grape seed or rice bran)
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs (room temperature)
½ cup milk
2 cups self-raising flour

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C, or 170°C if using the fan setting. Grease and line your choice of baking tin.
  2. Mash the bananas with a fork, making it as smooth as possible.
  3. Combine the oil, sugars, salt, vanilla and eggs in a large bowl and whisk together until everything is well blended, then stir in the banana and milk. Mix well, then add the flour. Beat again until evenly mixed and pour into the prepared baking tin.
  4. Bake for 40 – 50 minutes until the top is golden brown, the centre springs back when pressed and a skewer poked into the middle comes out clean.  Don’t worry if the top cracks slightly, this is normal and will be covered by the delicious lemon icing.
  5. Very important: leave it in the tin for about 5 minutes to cool slightly and settle before turning it out onto a rack.
  6. Once cooled completely, ice with the lemon icing.  Chocolate also works, or any icing really, but I prefer the tang of the lemon with the delicate banana flavour.

Lemon Icing
25 g butter, softened (not melted)
1½ cups icing sugar
zest of half a lemon (please use a fresh lemon and not the stuff out of a bottle!!)
1 – 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

  1. Place the butter in a medium-sized bowl, sift in the icing sugar (OK, so we do have to use the sieve).
  2. Add the lemon zest and just enough juice to make a spreadable consistency.
  3. Ice the cake and decorate with slices of dried banana chips or slices of dried banana.

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Roast Tomato and Bacon Soup

I’m definitely a summer person, preferring the long, hot, sunny days enjoying ice cream on the beach or watching my little one playing at the water’s edge learning to boogie board.  BBQ on the deck as the sun goes down is a great family time too, smelling the meat sizzling away, chatting with friends over a tasty glass of something…but as summer is still many months away, I am settling for the joy of comfort food.  Roast Tomato and Bacon Soup

Occasionally at this time of year, I come across bags of overripe tomatoes at the local green grocer or supermarket, going for a song, obviously imported from somewhere but as they aren’t being bought up for use in salads, I suppose they stay on the shelf longer than normal.  I LOVE these discoveries as they always end up in the oven with olive oil, garlic and balsamic vinegar before being pulsed and sieved and made into a deliciously rich and aromatic tomato soup.  On this particular day, I decided a little fried bacon would add the meaty flavour I was after and this was the end result – one of my favourites and now in my little box of “tried and tested, definitely to be made again” recipes.  This looks like a long list of ingredients, but it’s probably all in your very well stocked pantry anyway ;).

ingredients:
1kg vine tomatoes
2 tbsp each: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar
a good sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a healthy dollop of butter
1 onion, peeled and finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1tsp fresh thyme leaves (fresh basil works a treat if you don’t have thyme)
bacon, chopped (up to you how much you want to add, I use a whole pack for my family)
400 g can crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
chives
fresh pouring cream

  1. Preheat your oven to 190°C. Place tomatoes in a shallow roasting dish and drizzle over the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, followed by the brown sugar. Add whole garlic cloves (no need to peel them, you get to squeeze out the squishy delicious contents later!)
  2. Roast tomatoes for 15 – 20 minutes until the skins burst and the juices are caramelising.
  3. In the mean time, heat the butter and sauté the chopped bacon until cooked.  Set some aside for garnish.
  4. Add more butter if necessary, along with the onion, garlic (if you prefer to peel, chop and fry it) and thyme (or basil) over a low heat for a few minutes until softened but not brown (brown garlic and onion is bitter and this dish needs the natural sweetness obtained by gently coaxing it out of these lovely ingredients).
  5. Remove the tomatoes from the oven. Carefully pour off the juice, setting it aside. Remove the cores from the tomatoes and roughly chop/mash the flesh.
  6. Add canned tomatoes, roasted chopped tomatoes, reserved caramelised juices, tomato paste and squished garlic flesh (please don’t add the skin!) to the onion mixture and simmer for 20 minutes.
  7. Purée the mixture and sieve to remove skin, pips and lumps.
  8. Adjust seasoning to taste.
  9. Serve soup by sprinkling the remaining bacon bits, a swirl of cream and chopped chives over the top.

We love dunking huge chunks of country style freshly home baked bread or grilled cheese toast into this soup – you will want to lick the bowl clean. Enjoy!
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Caramel and White Chocolate Fudge

Fudge can be a tricky treat as you’re working with sugar and sugar is not always a willing participant. Sugar needs to reach a very high temperature before it caramelises, but the trickiness is that it can seize/crystalise) and if this happens, I’ve been known to empty out the pot into the bin and start again!  Frustrating!

This recipe is not only delicious, but is really easy.  There is no messing about with sugar thermometers or dropping tiny balls of mixture into ice cold water to measure hard or soft ball stage…you just need to keep stirring and it will work beautifully.  I enjoyed a giggle while making this latest batch as, being school holidays, we’d just finished watching the original Nemo movie on DVD and to keep myself focused on the fudge and stirring, stirring, stirring, I sang along to Dory’s song “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming” – so next time you try this, think of me (or Dory really) and sing along to “Just keep stirring, stirring, stirring” :).White Chocolate Fudge

I’ve made it a few times now and it doesn’t set as hard as traditional fudge, but neither you, nor anyone who shares it with you, will regret that one little bit.

ingredients:
125g unsalted butter
2Tbsp golden syrup
1 x 395g can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup brown sugar
100g white chocolate melts

  1. Gently melt the butter in a pan, add the golden syrup, sugar and condensed milk.
  2. Stir with a silicone spatula over low heat until boiling (♪ Just keep stirring, stirring, stirring ♫).  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring constantly.
  3. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate melts and mix until smooth – it looks beautiful and silky.
  4. Pour into a foil lined 7cm x 25cm bar pan and refrigerate until set.
  5. Turn onto a chopping board, the foil will peel off easily and cut into squares.

Enjoy!
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Banoffee Pie

This combination of caramel, banana and cream is simply scrumptious and another favourite in our home.  You don’t get much easier than this!

A traditional biscuit/butter base can be used, but I often find these bases temperamental so prefer an easy sweet shortcrust pastry, specifically as I almost always have frozen ready-rolled pastry in the freezer.  If you don’t have the pastry to hand, short crust is one of the easiest pastries to make.  A tip I learned was to replace any water in home-made  shortcrust pastry with the equivalent amount of egg as water turns to steam in the oven which evaporates and causes the pastry to shrink more than normal.

Banoffee Pie

You often see pictures of this pie (or “tart” as it isn’t enclosed in pastry) with the caramel, bananas and cream beautifully layered, but my mum mixes the chopped banana in with the caramel, taking care not to mash it up too much.  I prefer this way as the banana balances the richness of the caramel beautifully.  It’s all covered with cream anyway, but it’s up to you.

ingredients:

1 quantity sweet short crust pastry
185g can caramel
1 Tbs hot water
1 tsp gelatine powder
2 bananas
250ml fresh cream
chocolate for decorating

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC.  Roll out pastry to about 4mm thick – too thin and it will be very fragile, too thick and it may not cook evenly.
  2. Carefully press the pastry into the pie dish, taking care not to stretch it or leave dents where the pastry will be uneven.  Remove any air pockets.  Either leave the pastry hanging over the sides of the dish to be cut down after cooking, or roll a rolling pin across the top to neatly sever the edges.  (Note: I used mini flan tins with removable bases – easy peasy!)
  3. Cover the base with plastic wrap or baking paper (I prefer the paper) and fill with ceramic baking beans.  If you don’t have these, use dry uncooked rice, beans or lentils, taking care to cover right up to the edges.  This weighs the pastry down so it doesn’t bulge during cooking.
  4. Bake for 10 mins, then remove the paper/plastic and baking beans and return the pie crust to the oven for a further 5 mins or until just cooked – you don’t want it to brown too much.  Set aside and allow to cool.
  5. Whisk the caramel until smooth. Slice the bananas and add to the caramel.  Dissolve the gelatine in the water and pour into the caramel/banana mixture.  Combine well and pour into the cooled pastry case and refrigerate to set.  If layering the banana on top of the caramel, only slice and add them when you’re almost ready to serve the pie as no-one wants to see brown soggy banana slices!
  6. When ready to serve, whip the cream and lather it on top.  Now you could leave it there, but I prefer to sprinkle grated chocolate (preferably peppermint crisp if you can get your hands on it, or something similar as the peppermint works wonderfully well with the caramel).

Enjoy!
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Coke Chicken

The last time I tried making coke chicken was about 10 years ago, but it was just too rich with the combination of ingredients.  My husband recently brought up the topic again so, of course, I jumped straight in looking for that awesome mixture that would delight the taste buds.  I came across a recipe that called for just 3 ingredients…coke, chicken and soy sauce.  Now anything with soy sauce is always going to rate pretty highly with me so I gave it a try – very nice, but as with most things, I tweaked it a bit and added grated fresh ginger and whole peeled cloves of garlic, just to fragrance the sauce, I didn’t want to be chomping on a piece of garlic while enjoying the coke.  Give it a try – definitely not for anyone on a diet!

Coke Chicken

ingredients:

chicken pieces
coke (no diet coke here, or if you do use it, add a few spoons of brown sugar to help with caramelisation)
soy sauce
grated fresh ginger (enough to make it zing, but don’t overdo it – you know how much you like)
3 small or 2 large cloves of garlic

Preheat oven to 180ºC.  Place coke, soy sauce, peeled garlic cloves and grated ginger into an oven dish (I used skinned and boned thighs as I find this meat far more full of flavour).  I didn’t measure the coke or soy sauce as it all depends on how much chicken you’re cooking, but the ratio of soy sauce to coke should be about 1:3.  You want enough liquid to cover the chicken so it is able to lie languidly in the sauce without sticking out as you don’t want it drying out.  If it sticks out a little, simply baste and turn the pieces during  the cooking process.  Add chicken pieces and pop into the oven for about 40 mins to an hour. The sauce should begin reducing.

It can be served at this stage, but I preferred to transfer it to a pot and let it bubble away on the stove top for a further 20 minutes or so, allowing the liquid to reduce and thicken, coating the chicken with a delicious tangy sticky sauce.  Watch it though, as you want to reserve some of the mixture to be used as a gravy over the fluffy white rice.

Delicious!

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Chocolate Whoopie Pies with Strawberry Butter Cream Icing

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I had no idea what a Whoopie Pie was until I watched an episode of Chelsea New Zealand’s Hottest Home Baker and these were part of a 5 item challenge.  Afterwards I was eager to try the recipe, but it called for Cocoa Butter – perhaps a misprint?  I wasn’t sure, but after a bit of searching, I came up with the recipe below.  They are sooooooo easy to make and the batter is absolutely delicious – I must’ve eaten about a third of it before baking even began.  The recipe is taken from another blog: http://www.kingarthurflour.com where they are described as the best parts of a cupcake – the top and the icing.  I have to agree, they are truly delicious and didn’t last long once my son and 3 of his friends got hold of them.  My husband even enjoyed them and he’s not a fan of cake – give them a try – a nice alternative to a tea time biscuit.
ingredients:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp espresso powder, optional
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup cocoa
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease (or line with baking paper) two baking sheets.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and vanilla till smooth. Add the egg, again beating till smooth.
  3. Add the cocoa, stirring to combine.
  4. Add the flour to the batter alternately with the milk, beating till smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and beat again briefly to soften and combine any chunky scrapings.
  5. Drop the dough by the 1/4-cupful onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving plenty of room between the cakes; they’ll spread. A muffin scoop works well here. NOTE: I filled a piping bag and used Wilton’s no. 1A tip which squeezed out perfectly round blobs, no messing about with scoops!
  6. Bake the cakes for 15 to 16 minutes (I have a hot oven and mine were done after 13 mins so check a few minutes before the full time), till they’re set and firm to the touch. Remove them from the oven, and cool on the pans. While still lukewarm, use a spatula to separate them from the pan or parchment; then allow to cool completely on a rack.

I’m not keen on manufactured flavours and colours, and didn’t have any strawberry flavour in the house in any case, but I did have frozen strawberries in the freezer!

To make the icing:
125g unsalted butter
3 cups icing sugar
small amount of milk or cream
strawberry flavour and colouring (or see tip further down to deal with frozen strawberries)
  1. Slowly cream the butter until it is very soft and turns a very pale yellow, almost white colour.
  2. Sieve one cup of icing sugar and add to butter, along with a little milk/cream.  Beat until smooth.
  3. Continue alternating these two ingredients until you have used all 3 cups of icing sugar.  Add the strawberry flavour and colour and blend until smooth and incorporated.
Tip: when using frozen strawberries (or any berry really), microwave for a few seconds to defrost and then mash with a fork.  The berry pulp and juice can then be added to the icing mixture in place of the flavour and colouring.  If you prefer a stronger colour, add a few drops of food colouring.
When the whoopie pies have cooled completely, sandwich them together with a thick layer of the icing mixture.
This recipe makes about 14 medium sized whoopie pies (28 halves).

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Creamy Bacon, Courgette and Lemon Pasta

Friends invited us to dinner last Saturday night and we were treated to a delicious pasta dish –
Creamy Bacon, Courgette and Lemon Linguine.  I’m a HUGE fan of all things lemon so I couldn’t wait to try it out at home tonight.  Having no linguine in the pantry wasn’t a deterrent, any pasta shape will do, as long as the creamy sauce is able to coat the pasta.

Creamy Lemon and Bacon Pasta

ingredients:

pasta of your choice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 x 250g pack of bacon
1 large courgette, grated, all liquid squeezed out
1 large clove garlic, peeled and crushed
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest
½ cup cream
fresh basil, mint or chives
grated parmesan cheese

  1. Cook pasta until al dente in lots of boiling water with a little salt added.  Drain.
  2. Chop bacon (remove rind and excess fat first) and fry in olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes.
  3. Add garlic and courgette and fry for 2 minutes, careful not to allow garlic to turn brown (makes it bitter).
  4. Add zest, cream and juice and lower heat, stirring occasionally.  Allow to simmer for 5 minutes.  Cream will reduce.
  5. Pour sauce over pasta and stir gently to ensure pasta is well coated.
  6. Add your choice of fresh herbes and grated parmesan.
  7. I didn’t see a need to add salt or pepper as the lemon flavour is delicate and I didn’t want it to be overshadowed.  The parmesan and bacon is already salty so didn’t want to overdo that either.
  8. Enjoy!

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