Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dark Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread

Have you ever had chocolate chips in your banana bread? If not, you're really missing out.

The first time I mentioned adding chocolate to banana bread to my husband (then boyfriend), he thought I was nuts and that it sounded gross. But then he tasted his first slice and he saw the light. I don't always add chocolate to my recipe, but sometimes, it's just the right sweet treat. And I like to reason that this recipe is otherwise rather healthy, so a little chocolate won't hurt.

This time I used some chopped up dark chocolate we had leftover:

(Leftover chocolate? what's that?! This 85% cocoa chocolate was actually a little too dark for eating out of hand, but perfect for baking.) But regular chocolate chips work just as well. Perfect for breakfast, a late night snack or anywhere in between!

Dark Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread
(Makes 1 8x5 loaf)

4 ripe bananas
1 egg
1/4 c. oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. flour (I often do half wheat, half all-purpose)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 dark chocolate chunks (or chocolate chips)
1 Tbsp. turbinado sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 8x5 loaf pan well.
In a large bowl, mash ripe bananas. Beat in egg, oil and vanilla.
In a smaller bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt. Add to banana mixture and mix well.
Stir in chocolate chunks.

Pour batter into greased pan. Sprinkle top of batter evenly with turbinado sugar (if using).

Bake at 350°F for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Cool for at least 20 minutes before removing from pan.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Coconut Oil

Are you into the coconut oil craze? Until recently, I'd heard a lot about coconut oil--especially from the Paleo crowd--but never used it myself. But a few weeks ago my husband when grocery shopping with me (a rarity, and this time it only happened because I couldn't drive for 5 days), he saw some on the shelf and said "hey, let's try this." So I said "hey, why not?!"

If you're not familiar with coconut oil, it's a solid at room temperature similar to butter:

But heat it up a little and it turns to a clear, silky oil:

The first few times we tried it, we used it in stir-fries. It worked fine, but I didn't get a whole lot of coconut flavor from it. And given that it's got more saturated fat than butter, I didn't think it was worth it when my good ol' olive and sesame oils that I usually use for stir-fry work just as well.

Now, it has to be said that there is a lot of discussion going on about whether the saturated fats in coconut oil are better for you (or not as bad for you) as those in butter. I won't go into great detail, but basically it has to do with the length of the fatty acid chains that make up the coconut oil. Since the scientific evidence isn't 100% clear given limited studies, I'm not going to be adding coconut oil to everything. But from what I've read, I have no concerns about swapping out butter for coconut oil.

And so these chocolate chip cookies with coconut oil (or coconut infused chocolate chip cookies, as I like to call them) came to be. I swapped out the usual butter in the recipe for the exact same amount of coconut oil and the results were delicious!

The cookies had a bit of a lighter, crispier texture than the butter version and a slight hint of coconut in their finish. I would definitely make these again, and I can't wait to try other baked goods using coconut oil.
What's your favorite recipe using coconut oil?

If you're looking to try a new one out, here's my recipe for
Coconut Infused Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Makes 18 large cookies)

3/4 c. coconut oil, melted (I measured the 3/4 c. when solid, which after melting, turned into about 2/3 c.)
1 c. brown sugar (loose, not packed)
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, beat melted coconut oil, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended (no lumps). Add vanilla, whole egg and egg yolk and beat until creamy. 
In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt.
Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and beat until well blended.
Stir in chocolate chips.
Drop heaping (about golf ball-sized) tablespoons of dough onto parchment paper at least 2" apart.
Bake for 15 minutes or until cookies are evenly browned.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Things to Do in Southern California: The Getty Villa

A couple of weekends ago, the need to get out of the house struck (as it so often does now that I'm back working from home!). When we visited the Getty Center a little over a year ago, we learned that before the larger museum in Los Angeles was built, J. Paul Getty had actually housed is art collection in his home in Pacific Palisades, CA, which is on the ocean in between Santa Monica and Malibu. After the collection outgrew his home, he built a Roman Villa nearby to allow for expansion.

The one big difference with the Getty Villa vs. the Getty Center is that you have reserve tickets for the Villa ahead of time. (The tickets are free, but you still have to go online to reserve a specific time slot. The only the thing you pay for, as with the Getty Center, is parking - $15 per car.) We had reserved tickets once before last summer, but something came up and we couldn't make it. Fortunately, when the idea popped up one Saturday, we were able to nab tickets for the very next day.

While the Getty Center focuses on European and American art and architecture, the Getty Villa is all about the Greco-Roman era. That means lots of statues:

 And beautiful murals:
And impressive gardens and architecture (not to mention a peek-a-boo ocean view!):
In the end, hubby and I decided we like the Getty Center a little better, just because it's more "our" kind of art. But the Villa is quite beautiful in its own right--and definitely worth a visit if you're in the Los Angeles area!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Authentic Key Lime Pie

It's citrus season here in Southern California, and it has been another banner year for our key lime tree. For the last 3 weekends in a row, I've gone out to "pick a few limes" and come back in with a big bowl full like this:
(Did you know key limes turn yellow when they're ripe? True story!)
Admittedly, they're very small, so each one doesn't produce a lot of juice. But round up 20 of them (which is very easy to do with our tree this year!) and you've got just enough for a delicious, authentic key lime pie! Wondering why I'm calling it "authentic"? Three reasons: first, it's not green (just like the rind, key lime juice is actually yellow); second, it tastes just like the key lime pie(s) I had in when I was in Key West for my wedding; three, there's no instant pudding involved like I've seen with some recipes. This is the real deal--and it's pucker-y perfection, if I do say so myself.
This is definitely one of my favorite pies. It's creamy and smooth with just the right amount of tartness to wake those taste buds up. 
What's your favorite kind of pie?
If you're looking for something new to try, here's my recipe for:
Authentic Key Lime Pie
(Makes 1 9-inch pie)
For the crust:
1 sleeve graham crackers (I use low-fat)
3 Tbsp. melted butter
2 Tbsp. sugar
For the filling:
2/3 c. key lime juice (about 20 key limes' worth, or you can use bottled juice)
1 Tbsp. key lime zest (from 2-3 key limes)
2 (14 oz.) cans sweetened condensed milk
1/2 c. plain, fat-free Greek yogurt
Garnish (optional):
Whipped cream
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Place graham crackers in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until crackers are reduced to a fine crumble.
Pour crumbs into a large bowl. Fold in melted butter and sugar to evenly distribute throughout crumbs.
Pour crumb mixture into a 9-inch pie pan. Press crumbs evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the pie pan.
Bake crust at 350°F for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned.
In another large bowl, combine key lime juice, zest, sweetened condensed milk and yogurt. Mix on low speed until ingredients are well combined.
Pour filling into baked pie crust.
Return pie to oven and bake at 350°F for about 8 minutes or until tiny bubbles start to burst at the surface of the pie.
Cool completely, then refrigerate at least 8 hours for best flavor (I prefer to let it sit overnight).
Top with whipped cream before serving, if desired.