Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fresh and creamy banana cake

I was skipping through the Ina Garten book, "Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That?" when I saw a recipe for Old-Fashioned Banana Cake.
With a toddler in the house, bananas are always a staple.
He eats a whole banana in a sitting, or we use them in smoothies, or I add them to his cereal.
But a couple weeks ago I had a few left at the end of the week that were, well, close to the trash bin.
Hating to waste food, I perked up when I saw the recipe for this cake that called for three very ripe bananas.
I slimmed it down a touch with low-fat sour cream and neufchatel for the frosting instead of cream cheese. I also skipped the butter in the frosting and reduced the sugar by 1/2 a cup.
I would have posted it sooner, but I think it has been so long since I blogged here that I forgot how.
Lucky for you, my two readers, I remembered my password, remembered how to take a picture with something besides my iPhone and remembered how to post to the blog.
Now, let them eat cake. Banana cake!

Fresh and creamy banana cake (my lower-fat version of Ina)
with "cream cheese" frosting


3 very ripe bananas
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra large eggs, at room temp
1/2 cup sour cream (I used low-fat)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
grated zest of one orange
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

"cream cheese" frosting:

8 ounces neufchatel cheese
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

for the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350.
Grease and flour a 9 x 2 inch round cake pan

Mix the bananas, sugar and brown sugar on low until combined. Add oil, eggs and vanilla, sour cream and orange zest and mix until smooth.

Add the dry ingredients in thirds and mix on low until just combined.

Stir in the walnuts.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, until a pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in pan for 15 minutes then turn out onto cooling rack.

While cake is cooling, make the frosting.

for the frosting:

Mix neufchatel cheese, and vanilla until just combined. Add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth.

Spread evenly over the cake and garnish with more walnuts, if desired.


The cake is so moist and creamy. Even without the frosting it is great.

The orange zest gives it the perfect brightness that it needs to lift it from banana cake to BANANA cake!

The frosting is just, well, the icing on the cake.



Saturday, March 12, 2011

Slow-cooker lasagna in red and white

I am on a roll lately with the great slow-cooker recipes.
First the short ribs.
Then the carnitas.
Then I decided to experiment with making lasagna in the slow cooker. And it was really good.
I made my version vegetarian, but it should work to add cooked ground meat in the layers, if you like that sort of thing.

There was a bit of work involved in this one. Which is typical of lasagna. I tried to cut down on that by using pre-washed bagged spinach and pre-cut bagged mushrooms. If I did not already have carrots at home I would have bought the pre-shredded ones. It did not add too much time to peel and grate the ones I already had. Same for chopping the onion.

Slow-cooker lasagna in red and white

Makes 8-10 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 5-6 hours

3 eggs
2 cups evaporated milk (do not use regular milk - it does not work well in the slow-cooker)
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
2 cups low-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup low-fat sour cream
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

1 jar of your favorite red pasta sauce (I used Classico Spicy Red Pepper)

1 box lasagna noodles
1 cup Parmesan cheese (divided into thirds)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (divided into thirds)
12 ounce bag baby spinach
5 ounce bag sliced brown mushrooms
4 carrots, peeled and grated
1 medium white onion, chopped

Mix first 11 ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside.

Get all your veggies open, cleaned prepped and ready to use.

Spoon about a cup of the egg-cheese mixture into the bottom of the slow cooker then sprinkle with about 1/2 cup of the red sauce.
Layer noodles over the sauce in a single layer, breaking into pieces if needed to make them fit.

Sprinkle half the carrots, half the onion and all the mushrooms over the noodle layer, then sprinkle on about a third each of Parmesan and mozzarella.
Spoon over about a third of the remaining egg-cheese mixture and then about a third of the remaining red sauce.

Make another layer of noodles.
Cover that layer with spinach and remaining onion and carrot, then add another third of the Parmesan and mozzarella.
Spoon on another third of the egg-cheese mixture and red sauce.

Add one more layer of noodles. Cover with all the remaining egg-cheese mixture and remaining red sauce.
Sprinkle on remaining Parmesan and mozzarella.

Cook on low setting for 5-6 hours.

This was tricky to scoop out the first night.
The noodles were a little "loose" in the sauce, so it did not want to stand up.

But it tasted really good!
And it was even better reheated for dinner the second night.

And it stood up nicely then, as seen in the picture.

This is not a slow-cooker meal I can make on a weekday since it cooks in only 5-6 hours. On work days I need 8-10 hour recipes.

But it was a great thing to start at midday on a day off and just forget about until dinner.
I got it all ready and started while Ben napped.
I paired it with Caesar salad and a good wine for dinner.

I liked the blend of red and white sauces in this. I was just creamy enough, but not too rich.
And the veggies were terrific. If I had anything like ham or prosciutto, I would have chopped that up and added it to one of the layers. I think that would be good.

I thought about doing the ground meat, but that was one more step and would have dirtied another pan. With the veg version it was all just done right in the cooker.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Slow-cooker carnitas

When I mentioned this recipe on Facebook, I wrote it as "carnitas," with the quote marks.
That was because it is not made in a traditional way of braising then frying the meat, instead it cooks all day in the slow cooker.
But now that I have had it as leftovers (and it was even better than the delicious first meal), I dropped the quote marks.
I know purists may argue with me, but this recipe is worthy of no quote-mark innuendo.
And it is so easy. Seriously. Just about the easiest thing I have made in the slow cooker.
Even easier than the oh-so-simple braised short ribs.
And I was skeptical of the results since I like my carnitas to have a bit of crispness to the edges. But I think that using such a small amount of liquid is the key. The juice/broth barely covered the meat when I started it. By the time I got home, most of it had cooked off.
Not all of it. It was not dry. But enough had cooked off so that the top edges were above the liquid and and developed a sort of dry (in a good way) edge.

Slow-cooker carnitas

2 pounds pork tenderloin (This is what I used since it is what I had. Shoulder would work, too.)
Freshly squeezed juice of a large orange (about 1/2 cup)
Freshly squeezed juice of two limes (about 1/2 cup)
9 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cumin
1 cup beef broth

Trim pork of excess fat.
If using tenderloins, cut each into four pieces and place in the bottom of the slow cooker.
Sprinkle with salt and cumin, then toss to coat.
Add orange and lime juices and the smashed garlic cloves to the pork.
Add broth.

Cook on the lowest setting for 8-10 hours (I set mine for 10 hours since I was going to be gone for work.)
When the meat is cooked, remove it from the pot with the garlic, leaving any excess juice. Roughly chop the meat and garlic.
Serve in warm tortillas with your favorite taco toppings.

For dinner I served these with warmed corn tortillas and several garnishes so we could customize our tacos. (avocado chunks, chopped white onion, chopped cilantro, shredded cheese, sour cream, lime wedges, salsa)
Since I wanted to have a more complete meal, I made some sauteed yellow squash with shallot and garlic and then mixed in a can of (drained) black beans.

Today for lunch we had the leftover meat, once again in tacos. The citrus flavors were even more present than the prior night. I reheated the meat in a skillet on the stove to crisp it up a bit.

When I think about making this, I think I spent more time getting the garnishes ready than I did prepping the meat and then chopping it at the end.
We loved it, the kid loved it and it was easy.
This will definitely become part of the regular rotation.