Banana Cookies to the Rescue

cocoa nibs 12.15.12I say “to the rescue,” because they were the perfect vehicle for two ingredients I wanted to put to use—frozen bananas and my current focus ingredient, cocoa nibs—all in a tasty package that I could contribute to my friends’ second annual holiday cookie and beer swap. Yup, a fun twist. You go home with lots of great cookies and a lively assortment of beer.

I happened to have a lot of bananas in the freezer (I’m happy to say, quite a few less now), so I did a quick Google search for banana cookies and went with the first one I saw. It had all the right stuff: bananas, holiday spices, and nuts. The recipe suggested pecans, or walnuts and chocolate chips as alternatives. But I knew right away I’d be using hazelnuts (because they also go great with bananas, and I had plenty of them, too!) and cocoa nibs.

These turned out to be a really nice cookie. They rose nicely, and had a light, cakey texture. The cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves complemented without overpowering the smell and taste of banana, all rounded out by a little crunch from nuts and nibs.

A nice addition to the overripe-and-frozen-bananas repertoire of recipes.

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (about 2 1/2 large bananas) (Note about using frozen bananas: I thawed my bananas, then, in a bowl, stirred the banana pulp with the liquid that had separated from each other, recombining them. Worked great.)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups flour
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup cocoa nibs

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.

2. In a bowl, mix the mashed bananas and baking soda, let sit for 2 minutes. The baking soda will react with the acid in the bananas, giving the cookies their lift and rise.

3. Mix the banana mixture into the butter mixture. When I mixed these, I got what looked like egg curds, the reaction of the acid, baking soda, and eggs. Just combine. It’s fine, and all evens out as the rest of the ingredients are added.

4. Combine flour, salt and spices. You can sift to distribute the salt and spices throughout the flour, and remove any little lumps, or use a whisk, which is what I usually do, and what I did this time. Add this into the butter and banana mixture and stir just til combined.

5. Fold the chopped hazelnuts and cocoa nibs into the batter. I rounded one small spoon with batter and used another to shape and help drop onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, and baked for 11-15 minutes. When bottoms are browning, and the tops are starting to, that’s a good time to take them out. Give them a couple minutes to set. Then transfer to a rack to finish cooling.

I made two batches of this recipe, and got 41 cookies one time, and 38 the next, the cookies about 2 to 3 inches round.

Enjoy.

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A Cocoa Hit

Cocoa nibs 4 12.8.12Cocoa nibs came into my circle several years ago when I saw them in a magazine, a chocolate touch for a Valentine’s Day salad. I was intrigued. I found a source online, ordered them and got them just in time to make that same salad to bring to my book group for our monthly wine-sharing, potluck-dinner book discussion.

These sliver-shaped nuggets are the broken pieces of roasted and shelled cocoa beans that you can toss into salads, over ice cream, on your cereal, or grind into a powder and allow to infuse a stew or chili. In fact, my husband has done that often when he’s made chili. Because they’re cocoa, they’re not sweet, so instead you get, well, the deeper, darker taste of cocoa…in tiny bursts.

Outside of making that salad and using the nibs over ice cream, or something similar, I don’t remember using them too much more, mostly my husband grinding them to add to chili from time to time. Yet, oddly enough, I continue to keep cocoa nibs stocked in the house.

Then along came this week, and once again a salad to be made as my contribution to the upcoming book group get-together. Casually flipping through a food magazine, I was hoping something would strike me that would serve as an ingredient to play with in this blog for the next three weeks, and that would also lead to a salad idea. Inspiration came in the form of a beautiful chocolate cake. It’s not the cake that registered in my brain, but the chocolate part, which made some quick internal connections, and led to my mind clearly stating, “Cocoa nibs.”

Very quickly, the salad mentally grew to include red and green leafy lettuce, grapefruit, pomegranate seeds, and maybe cheese if I could find the right one. So I headed to Trader Joe’s.

I picked up a package of their red and green oak leaf lettuce. I got an organic pomegranate and an organic red grapefruit. And, then, in their cheese section, I found a cheese I thought could do the job, one of Trader Joe’s more recent additions, a parmesan-gouda blend. I liked the idea of a little sharpness and a little creaminess, so into the cart that went, too.

After rinsing and spinning the lettuce, I tore it into bite-sized pieces and abundantly filled a rectangular white serving platter.

I thinly shaved pieces of about half of the parmesan-gouda wedge with a vegetable peeler, tucking into the greens.

I segmented the grapefruit over a strainer sitting on a bowl to catch the juices. I used the method where you cut away all the skin and pith, and then slice between the membrane and fruit to release the fruit and leave the membrane, then squeezed the remaining juices from the membrane. I further sliced the segments into three or four thin slices, and draped those on and in among the greens and cheese slices.

I sprinkled the seeds of half a pomegranate over top. (See last week’s post regarding freeing pomegranate seeds and juice from skin and membranes.)

And over all that, I sprinkled a couple tablespoons of cocoa nibs.

To a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil, I added two tablespoons of the fresh grapefruit juice (actually a little more than that, to use it all up), two tablespoons of pomegranate juice, a couple grinds of pepper, and salt to taste.

About half that dressing was enough for the salad, and I added it right before serving.

Lush, light, a little tartness, a little creaminess, some crunch, and then, every bite or so, that deeper, dark flavor of cocoa.

A Winter Tabbouleh

winter tabbouleh 12.1.12First things first.

Parsley.

Into the bowl it went. Thinly sliced, including a good three inches of stem for each sprig. And then each ingredient that followed added in proportion to the parsley, which has been, after all, the star of the past few weeks.

This parsley focus led me to think tabbouleh. That wonderful parsley-laden Middle Eastern salad where the freshness of parsley, along with mint and lemon, melds with bulgur wheat, diced tomatoes and maybe even cucumber for something refreshing and satisfying on a hot summer day.

But it’s December now.

So…how to translate that freshness and lightness while playing with a winter palette.

I did this. I used the sweeter orange instead of lemon. I used the tart juiciness of pomegranate seeds instead of tomatoes or cucumbers. I didn’t use mint. I added the bite of red onion and garlic, the richness of a swirl of extra virgin olive oil, and a floral back note with orange flower water. This turned out to be one of those combinations that is more than the sum of its parts.

I kept approximate measurements along the way so I could offer a guideline. Of course, as is so often true in cooking, proportions can be tweaked to personal taste.

Here are the ingredients I tumbled in, one after the other.

  • One bunch of parsley, trimmed to include three inches of stems. Finely sliced, the stems minced. About 1 1/2 cups loosely packed.
  • 2 cups cooked cracked wheat at room temperature (Bulgur wheat is the usual grain in tabbouleh, I know, and the differences could be the topic of a post at a later date, but, for now, well, cracked wheat is what I had on hand.)
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup minced red onion
  • Zest of one orange
  • Seeds from one pomegranate (reserve the juice) (Instructions and videos abound online on how to do this. I have followed instructions to cut them in half, hitting them with a wooden spoon to release the seeds into a bowl, and once used a technique that required submerging them in water. This time, I just cut it in half horizontally, set a strainer over a bowl, and squeezed each half over it. Simple. Juice traveled through to the bowl, the seeds stayed in the strainer. I turned the skin inside out to poke at and release what didn’t come out in the squeezing. Any of the pulp I removed.)
  • About a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to stir through and coat
  • About a tablespoon of orange flower water. It was one of those serendipitous things that I happened to have, which is why I even thought to try it. I think if I hadn’t had it, I would simply have upped the orange zest some.
  • Salt and pepper to taste, but you don’t need much, and might even choose to forego both. I might next time I do these, the other flavors being substantial on their own.

Toss lightly. Done. This is wonderful right here, as is.

But…if you want to take it one step further, and I suggest you do, then…

Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. A canola oil, or some other flavorless oil.  While that’s heating, mix one egg and about 1/4 cup or so of plain breadcrumbs into the tabbouleh, enough so that it holds together when you form them into small balls. Set them in the pan to fry, turning them as each side browns. When they’re done, drain them on a rack.

dip and tabbouleh balls 12.1.12In the meantime, you can make a nice little dip for them. Keeping with the Middle Eastern idea, I chose a plain yogurt. To six ounces of yogurt, I added two tablespoons of the fresh pomegranate juice and one teaspoon of orange flower water. It turns a beautiful pale fuchsia color. And if you hold back a smidgen of the chopped parsley and a few pomegranate seeds from earlier, they look festive tossed on top.

The slightly crisp, browned outside of these balls mixed with the light and bright flavors on the inside made them fun to eat. And a little dip into the fuchsia yogurt took them over the top.

Perfect…Parsley and Pears

Salad, yes, with Thanksgiving dinner. Green needed to be present.

Root vegetables were beautifully showcased. Classic white mashed potatoes. Cubed orange sweet potatoes with roasted red peppers. Roasted carrots and brussels sprouts. And orange again in the roasted butternut squash and kale tart I’d made as the second main course for the resident vegetarian, me.

Golden turkey and baked stuffing added brown-gold to the table.

So…green. Well, the kale in the tart. And the brussels sprouts with carrots. And, then too, French green beans with ivory cannellini beans in a vinaigrette.

But…more than green.

Greens. Something fresh.

A perfect place for parsley.

And pears.

Spring greens. Thin slices of pears from half a red Bartlett pear and half a Bosc pear. Ripe, luscious slices because the pears had lounged in an exotic tamarind-glazed bowl for a day. Parsley leaves plucked whole and tossed in. Oranges zested over the bowl with a microplane. A generous handful of toasted pine nuts I’d had left over, to add a tiny bite of richness. Salt and pepper. Extra virgin olive oil to coat. All in a glass bowl that was my grandmother’s. Clear at the top and, that’s right, green, at the bottom.

Perfect.

Oh, Parsley

At the farmers market Thursday, I bought a small bunch of parsley at one vendor, and then…a larger bunch at another vendor when I saw she had it, too. I couldn’t help myself. Until I saw those neatly gathered green bunches, I didn’t know how much I’d I missed it. It’s my favorite herb, and, still, it hadn’t been in the house for weeks.

Sure, basil is a lush, rich star of an herb, and Mario Batali once referred to marjoram as “the sexiest herb,” but, parsley…

The burst of extra flavor it brought to each of the fried meatballs Mom would give us when we were kids just before she slipped the rest into her Sunday sauce to simmer. Or, along with the perfect hint of lemon, lifting the already marvelous combination of bread crumb, egg, and grated cheese in broth, that is the Italian egg drop soup stracciosa, to marvelous-plus.

Yesterday I snipped a few leaves from one of the bunches we’d bought as it sat on the counter in a glass of water and added them to a cheese sandwich to take to work. At lunchtime, I smiled when I took a bite. Oh, parsley.