My search for the perfect banana bread ended years ago.  There are plenty of recipes out there, but none that fit my tall list of criteria.  So many have a dead bland banana flavor, others are too dry, or full of overpowering seasoning.  This recipe, which is my standby banana bread, is to my taste, the best. It has just the right amount of sweetness (not a lot), a crispy , crunchy, buttery crust, a moist bananay interior, and a delightful tang from the baking soda.   Chunks of dark chocolate melt into the bread making it just a little more special.

This is why, though I attempted to give another recipe a try last weekend, I simply could not find another one worth baking.  Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread, developed from years of tinkering, is the one for me.   We ate this bread for dessert after a disappointing football game, the rest served as a happy surprise in my son’s school lunch.

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2011 was not my favorite year, which seems silly when I think of all the giggles and thrills that graced the last 12  months.  My son learned to swim, my daughter to climb trees with ease, our family to adventure by canoe.  We ate a lot of very good food.  The many good moments cannot, unfortunately, overlook the abundance of unexpected misfortune and challenges that betook my family and friends. We are all looking forward to a better 2012.

I am hard up to think of a better way to start a day (or a year) than with a tall steaming stack of pancakes.  Way back when, I asserted my love for pancakes in my first post on this blog.  Those Buttermilk Pancakes continue to be our weekly standard, but sometimes we are craving something a little different (or do not have any buttermilk in the house).  On those days we have Buckwheat Blueberry Pancakes.  Buckwheat blends with whole wheat and all purpose flours to produce a pancake that has the characteristic blue hue of buckwheat, but the lightness of a regular pancake.  A touch of yogurt in the mix gives them a pleasant moist quality.  I like to dot the top of each cooking pancake with blueberries, but they are also very good with a mashed banana mixed into the batter.  Stack the pancakes with just a touch of butter between the layers and stream Mixed Berry Syrup over the top.  I am off to whip up another batch to welcome my family into the New Year!

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The holidays are upon us.  Anticipating a busy couple of weeks, we have transformed our home into a full-fledged  Christmas scene.  The tree is up, Santa Lucia is perched on the buffet, and the winter mugs in the morning coffee rotation.  While trying to convince the over-eager children that it is too early to start hanging ornaments on the advent calendar (whose idea was it anyway to decorate for Christmas in November?), we have been brainstorming ideas for edible holiday gifts.

I love making edible gifts for just about any occasion. Cooking for others is a way to treat those we appreciate with a delicious treat and share a bit of ourselves in the process.  It is best to plan ahead and start cooking early so that the making and giving does not become a stressful burden.  Riding the food hangover following Thanksgiving, our first foodie gift to make was Cranberry Cashew Granola Bars.

These granola bars are just sweet enough to count as a treat, but full of wholesome ingredients so they are also right at home in your little one’s school lunch bag.  The bars hold together pretty well, better than other granola bars I have tried.  Any crumbly bits taste tremendous sprinkled atop yogurt and fruit for breakfast.  Feel free to change up the types of nuts and dried fruit, just be sure to use equal quantities.  If you are using roasted nuts or toasted wheat germ, do not toast them again in the oven, instead add those items to the bowl with the cranberries.

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Soft Ginger Cookies

November 26, 2011

Perhaps it is illogical to bake the day after Thanksgiving.  Perhaps I should be following up a long run in the rain with salad and a nap.  But on the other hand, it may be best to let oneself down easy after a big feast.  No use going cold turkey (pun intended) on the rich food when the air is cool, and everyone is still lounging around the house enjoying the long weekend.  Why not break out the butter that did not make its way in the mashed potatoes make up some delicious treats?  When you really think about it, cookies seem to be an appropriate coda to the traditional Thanksgiving feast.

Soft Ginger Cookies are tender, buttery, intensely ginger flavored treats.  Roll the chilled dough in balls and then spin through a dish of sugar to give each cookie a sparkly look.  Slices of candied ginger add a decorative touch, as well a strong gingery spice.

This recipe makes a generous number of cookies, which provides a good excuse to drop in on your neighbors and friends.  You can also form the cookies and  freeze them to bake up later.

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Sesame Pita Bread

October 13, 2011

There is no substitute for home baked bread.  When baking at home we can experience each magical step of the baking process.  The bubbling of the yeast as it proofs and the rapid transformation of dry flour, salt, and water into an elastic mass that rises with life.  We shape the bread into loaves or braids or flatbreads (or the strange masses my kids insist on baking).  Once baked, the breads’ fragrant steam is intoxicating.  These are the secrets of the home baker.  None of these special experiences can be found in a bag of bread on a market shelf.

Regretfully, my life is too full to bake all of our bread at home.  While there are a few bakeries that offer excellent breads in our area, I have yet to find a great source for pita breads.  Since pita bread is so thin, it becomes stale very quickly.  Most of the doughs are treated with conditioners to extend their shelf life, but in the process destroy the quality of the bread.  This recipe, adapted from Baking with Julia, is a perfect solution to this problem.

Sesame Pita Bread eliminates the need to settle for store-bought pitas.  The dough is made in advance and stored in the refrigerator.  Cut off pieces, shape, and quickly bake for fresh bread throughout the week.  The pita is fragrant and flavorful.  It yields just the right amount of chewy resistance when you bite into a piece.  The sesame seeds add just a hint of flavor and texture to this otherwise plain dough.  Serve the pitas on the side of any saucy dish, brush the tops with garlic butter a different twist.  Slice them in half and fill with lamb,  hummus and veggies, or the classic falafel.  I am still searching for a fantastic falafel recipe.  Please share a link below if you have one.

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