Actual bananas custard

When my husband was an toddler his pediatrician forbade his mother from feeding him any more bananas, due to unexpected weight gain. I guess he really never lost his taste for bananas. And, really, has never looked happier than I saw him tonight dipping my “Too-damned-many-bananas banana bread” into this banana custard. Oh sure, maybe when a kid or two were born and possibly our wedding (I don’t honestly know about that personally because I was on the verge of passing out with terror the whole time, but I’ve seen photos), he may have looked happier. He described the experience as “bananatopia.” I think that says it all. Anyway, so far, our general practitioner hasn’t pulled me aside and insisted I deprive him of bananas.

Actual bananas custard

  • Servings: 8 servings
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients:

  • 6 ripe bananas
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground vanilla bean (or vanilla paste or extract)
  • 3 eggs

Preparation:

  1. Peel 6 ripe bananas and liquefy in a mixer or food processor.
  2. Add in 2 cups of milk and combine.
  3. Strain resulting mixture through a medium or fine strainer into a pitcher or large bowl.
  4. Discard remaining banana pulp in strainer.
  5. Return banana and milk mixture to mixer or processor.
  6. Add in 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons vanilla and thoroughly combine.
  7. In a separate bowl, whisk together 3 whole eggs and set aside.
  8. Place banana mixture into a medium or large saucepan.
  9. Constantly, or at least frequently, stir over medium heat (6.5 on my electric, ceramic top stove) until mixture reaches at least 170′, or boils. Use a cooking thermometer to check temperature.
  10. Reduce heat to low.
  11. Spoon about a cup of the hot banana mixture into the bowl of eggs and combine. Now pour the egg and milk mixture into the saucepan. Tempering the eggs with the heated banana and milk mixture keeps the eggs from instantly cooking into appalling egg blobs or streaks when they hit the hot custard. Adding eggs now, rather than at step #6, probably prevents the eggs going grainy or lumpy, but you could live carelessly.
  12. Cook over low heat, stirring often, possibly constantly, for about 5 minutes or until the custard begins to thicken. Do not cook above 180′. Over 185′ the custard may curdle.
  13. Pour into individual serving cups or large bowl.
  14. Serve warm or chilled.

Notes: This recipe was adapted from a number of sources; however, the two most influential recipes were “Jen’s Favorite Cookies” Banana Pudding recipe and “Epicurious'” Creme Anglais recipe.  “Crafty Baking’s” Custard Problems and Solutions was invaluable for determining that, no, I really did not want to mix cornstarch and eggs in a banana custard. You could use 5 or 6 egg yolks instead of the 3 whole eggs. I didn’t because a) I wanted a more jelly-like custard,  b) I am incredibly lazy, c) I am shockingly cheap tight thrifty economical, and d) if I tried to store egg whites in my fridge there is a 100% likelihood that they would spill everywhere even if I put them in a hermetically sealed jar, inside a locked pirate trunk, and I swallowed the key.

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Too-damned-many-bananas banana bread

IMG_20151028_185953Since I have come to grips with the fact that Allrecipes may, in fact, never publish my recipe submission and because my husband has access to an ongoing supply of very ripe, inexpensive bananas I present here a recipe that uses 5 bananas per each 9″ x 5″ bread loaf. Though not as visually pleasing as drier breads I think this is made up for by the flavor and texture. And toasting helps, of course.

The flavor and mouth-feel reminds me of a banana pudding, but it maintains its cohesion as a bread and is pretty marvelous toasted with butter. How this recipe worked, I don’t know, but it does. I read a lot of recipes trying to find one that used 5 or 6 bananas per loaf that wasn’t a soggy mess and most, maybe all, seemed to have a lot of ingredients and/or a whole lot of steps. I just couldn’t see going through all that for a loaf or two of banana bread. I’m really stuck on the concept that simplest and most efficient approach is also the most elegant and durable, in life and in cooking.

Too-damned-many-bananas banana bread

  • Servings: 2 9
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 10 very ripe bananas
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground vanilla bean (or substitute vanilla paste, or, in a pinch, extract)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350′.
  2. Grease two 9″ by 5″ bread loaf pans. I use a canola oil spray.
  3. Line a sturdy baking sheet with tin foil or parchment.
  4. Peel and dice bananas into mixer bowl.
  5. Starting mixer on low speed, blend bananas until smooth.
  6. Add baking soda, salt, and vanilla to bowl and combine.
  7. Add eggs and blend until thoroughly combined.
  8. Add sugar and combine.
  9. Add nuts now if you intend to use them.
  10. Add 1 cup of flour at a time, mixing until thoroughly combined.
  11. Pour equal amounts of batter into each loaf pan.
  12. Place loaf pans on baking sheet.
  13. Bake in oven at 350′ for about 70 minutes, or until loaves are set firm, browned, and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. I get a perfect loaf at exactly 75 minutes in my current oven. You may need to tent your loaves with tin foil to prevent them from getting too dark, depending upon your oven.
  14. Cool about 15 minutes.
  15. Invert loaf pan to remove banana bread.
  16. Slice and serve warm with a light topping of butter.

Notes:

I like to use ground vanilla beans because they don’t add any fluid to a recipe and they provide a distinct and beautiful flavor during longer baking processes.  Many recipes use butter, oil, or various dairy products to create a moist loaf. The bananas have so much moisture that the trick here is to not compound that problem by adding in more. My family puts enough butter on the finished product that I am afraid to add any more to the batter.

You can also substitute fresh sliced or diced apples in this recipe (about 4 cups), with some ginger and cardamom or cinnamon, and a cup of pecans and the recipe still works just fine. I found this out when our apple tree finally had a bumper crop and I was willing to try almost anything to not waste them. Cider and applesauce are easier, but apple-pecan bread is a real treat.

 

Quick buttery curry chickeny pasta in the microwave

I’ve only made this quick, delicious treat a couple of times and the optimal cook time for the pasta is yet to be determined. I would guess it is between 12 and 15 minutes, depending on the microwave.

Quick buttery curry chickeny pasta in the microwave

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh yellow or white onion
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 4 teaspoons chicken broth base powder
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/2 to 1 cup chopped pre-cooked chicken (or other protein source of choice)
  • 1 cup orzo pasta (these are the small, almond-shaped pastas used in Rice-a-roni)
  • 2 cups water
  • Optionally, add peas or carrot slices

Preparation:

  1. Place 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped onion and 3 Tablespoons butter in microwave safe bowl
  2. Microwave onions on high for 1 minute. Stir and cook 1 or more additional minutes, as desired, in 1 minute increments.
  3. Remove bowl from microwave onto heat-safe surface.
  4. If using a glass bowl please let it cool down before adding cold water. The change in temperature can cause the glass to shatter in a spectacular and dangerous manner.
  5. Stir in 4 teaspoons chicken broth powder, 2 teaspoons curry powder, 1/2 to 1 cup chopped pre-cooked chicken, and 1 cup orzo pasta.
  6. Stir in 2 cups of water. (Make sure glass bowls have cooled before adding!)
  7. Place a plate over the top of your bowl.
  8. Microwave on high for about 12 minutes and check. Microwave ovens vary in how quickly they cook food. Better safe than sorry. If you added more chicken, the corn and/ or peas then cooking time will be longer, up to about 22 minutes.
  9. Using hot pads, remove bowl from microwave, remove plate, stir, and check pasta for done-ness. The water should be absorbed, the pasta plump, and you should be able to easily cut an orzo piece in half with a fork or spoon. Stir.
  10. Cook additional minutes, as needed, up to about 22 minutes total cook time, or until water is all absorbed and orzo is plump and tender.
  11. Using hot pads, remove bowl from microwave and allow to sit, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes.
  12. Eat it up; yum!

Notes:

Normally I don’t suggest any particular brand of any product, but here I make an exception. After many years of trying different curry powders and powdered chicken broth bases I happened across two that I like immensely: Sun Brand Madras curry powder, by Merwanjee Poonjiajee & Sons Private Ltd, which I initially found at Safeway but my husband now buys it for me in bulk online, and Orrington Farms Chicken Broth Base and Seasoning, which I found at our local Walmart.

The Sun Brand curry powder has a pleasant, gentle yet complex, warm combo of spices that blend and compliment each other, without one or two dominating the others and that is amenable to a variety of dishes. Their use of ginger is ginger and the fenugreek is discernible, but not overpowering.  A favorite curry powder is a highly subjective and personal matter, but if you haven’t tried the Sun Madras it is worth a try. It eclipsed my previous favorite by several magnitudes of enjoyment. As to the Orrington Farms chicken broth, I haven’t tried their other products, but the chicken plainly tastes like the broth I get when I cook chicken and isn’t hiding behind a bunch of salt or filler. It’s the first and only powdered chicken broth I’ve ever tried that I would willingly eat by itself as a cup of soup. I receive no product, compensation, or consideration for these product endorsements, but I’d be totally willing to do so. 🙂

Desiccated Banana Bread

Desiccated Banana Bread

  • Difficulty: moderate
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banana bread

Ingredients:

  • 4 ripe bananas
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla (extract, paste, or ground beans)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups sugar (brown or white sugar)
  • 1 cup very soft butter
  • 3 cups flour

Preparation:

  1. Peel 4 bananas and place whole into microwavable bowl. Loosely cover bowl with glass or china plate.
  2. To release the liquid from the bananas you will microwave bananas for a total of 5 minutes on the highest setting. Microwave in 1 minute increments, checking that the liquid is not boiling over the top of the bowl. Use oven mitts to remove from microwave. Let bananas cool before proceeding.
  3. Separate banana pieces from banana liquids (between 1/4 and 1/2 cup). You will not be using the liquids for this recipe.
  4. Mash bananas with fork and separate larger pieces.
  5. Using a mixer, place bananas in bowl and blend on low speed.
  6. Add in 4 eggs and combine.
  7. Add in 2 tsp. baking soda, 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar, 1 tsp. salt, and 2 tsp. vanilla and combine.
  8. Add in 1 cup sour cream and combine.
  9. Add in 2 cups sugar and combine.
  10. Add in 1 cup softened butter and combine.
  11. Add in 3 cups of flour, one cup at a time, and combine thoroughly.
  12. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat for 1 to 2 minutes.
  13. Preheat oven to 350′.
  14. Grease two  9 inch by 5 inch bread loaf pans.
  15. Pour and scrape equal amounts of batter into each loaf pan.
  16. Line a cookie tray with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
  17. Place loaf pans on lined cookie tray (prevents oven spills if batter overflows loaf pans).
  18. Bake in oven at 350′ for 60 minutes. Check loaf for doneness (see #20).
  19. Cover with foil or paper if needed to prevent top of loaf getting too dark and bake 15 more minutes at 350′. Check for doneness (see #20).
  20. Bake additional time, as needed, until bread loaf is firm and a toothpick inserted into the middle of loaf comes out clean, indicating loaf is done baking.
  21. Cool 15 minutes before removing bread from loaf pan.
  22. Cool loaf completely, about 1 hour, before storing in plastic bag or wrap to prevent trapped excess humidity from causing mold.
  23. Store in refrigerator for longest shelf life.

You may want to use your leftover banana juice for adult beverages, drink it plain, or allow adventurous pets to enjoy that banana-ey goodness.

Notes:

This recipe is a hybrid of traditional banana bread recipes and the microwave method innovated by Andrea Geary in her article titled, “Ultimate Banana Bread,” which appeared in the “Cook’s Illustrated” magazine, “All-Time Best Bread Recipes.” Dec. 2014.

Reducing the amount of fluid from the bananas intensifies the banana flavor, reduces overall cooking time, and creates a firmer, more cohesive loaf.

I use vanilla paste because my sweet husband bought me a giant container of the stuff, but pure vanilla extract or dry, ground vanilla beans will also work just fine because of the butter content and baking time.

I write my recipes with the ingredients listed in the order in which they are used and with detailed instructions that my kids can follow and check off, item-by-item, as they proceed through a recipe. The experienced cook may find them unnecessarily specific.

Lazy Susan’s Baked Mac and Cheese

Lazy Susan's Mac & Cheese

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 3 cups elbow macaroni
  • 3 cups (32 oz) shredded extra sharp or sharp cheddar cheese
  • 24 oz (2 cans) evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan and Romano cheese blend
  • optionally add 1/4 c. pepper jack cheese
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. pepper
  • 2 tsp. mustard powder
  • 2 tsp. paprika

For boiling macaroni:

  • 1 Tblsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. salt

Preparation:

  • Bring 6 to 8 cups water to a boil with 1 tsp salt and 1 Tblsp vegetable oil. Add 3 cups elbow macaroni. Stir until water is boiling again and macaroni is freely moving in water, so macaroni doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Set timer only when water boils. Cook macaroni about 9 minutes. Thoroughly drain water off of macaroni.
  • Set your oven to bake at 350′. 
  • Using the pan you intend to bake your mac & cheese in, combine all cheeses and all spices and mix thoroughly.
  • Pour in evaporated milk and stir until well combined with cheese and spices.
  • Fold in your boiled macaroni, making sure to cover each elbow with sauce and to evenly distribute cheese.
  • Place mac and cheese uncovered in 350′ oven for 10 minutes.
  • Remove pan from oven and thoroughly fold and stir cheese sauce in and around macaroni elbows.
  • Optionally sprinkle with about 1/4 cup shredded cheddar and a sprinkling of black pepper.
  • Return to oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Remove from oven, serve, and enjoy a low hassle, homemade, baked mac and cheese product.

After 30 years of melting the cheese sauce separately and occasionally dealing with separated or burned cheese I decided there had to be a better way. And this is it.

Tangy Mac and Cheese, creamy or baked

IMG_20150108_182007_116

Tangy Mac and Cheese, creamy or baked

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 4 cups elbow macaroni
  • 4 cups (32 oz) extra sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 24 ounces (2 12 oz cans) evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan and Romano cheese blend
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 tsp. mustard powder
  • 1 tsp. paprika

plus, for boiling macaroni

  • 1 Tblsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. salt

 

Bring 6 to 8 cups water to a boil, with 1 tsp. salt and 1 Tblsp. vegetable oil. Add 4 cups elbow macaroni. Stir until water is boiling again and macaroni is freely moving in water, so macaroni doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Cook macaroni about 7 or 8 minutes, until al dente. Thoroughly drain water off of macaroni.

 

For creamy mac and cheese, leave macaroni in the pot it was boiled in.

 

For baked mac and cheese, transfer drained macaroni into an oven-safe baking dish.

 

While macaroni is cooking, prepare sauce.

 

Combine Cheddar cheese, Parmesan and Romano cheeses, evaporated milk, salt, pepper, mustard, and paprika in a large microwave-safe bowl.

 

Heat cheese sauce for 3 minutes on high, then remove from microwave and stir thoroughly. Repeat these steps until all cheese is melted and blended completely with the other ingredients.

 

For creamy mac and cheese, pour cheese sauce over cooked and drained elbow macaroni and serve.

 

For baked mac and cheese, pour cheese sauce over elbow macaroni and stir to thoroughly coat the macaroni. Lightly dust the top with more shredded Cheddar cheese and a a little black pepper. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 350′. Optionally, place under broiler for a few minutes to brown up cheese topping. Serve after cooling for a few minutes.

 

Enjoy!

How to stop the Blue Bunting 28 oz glass hummingbird feeder from leaking like a sieve

Feeder with base cover offThe birds really love this feeder. “Love,” though, is a gross understatement. They become violent, vicious, winged beasts fighting to access this feeder and fly right past other styles of feeders to get to it. But they tend to leak. Below is the solution to losing all your solution.

Some people have suggested latex gaskets or washers to stop the leaking on the 28 oz glass Blue Bunting hummingbird feeder from Walmart (see listing here), but I found those fixes unnecessary.

Update 2017: Paul suggests the following in a comment, and this may be the fool-proof, total fix:

“A 50 cent hardware store plumbing department 1 x 3/4 x 1/8 #15 o-ring placed on the neck of the bottle did the trick for me. No more leaks out of the snap together joint and you can tilt it pretty far before fluid comes out of a flower.”

In 2016 I switched all of my feeders over to a wide-mouth bottle that is easier to clean and has a circular perching ring around the entire bottle that seats more hummers. We sometimes see 22 to 25 Anna’s hummers sitting shoulder-to-shoulder taking turns on the nectar ports. It is the “First Nature 3055 32 oz feeder,” which is available at Amazon for about $10.10 each or a 2 pack for $18.36 at this time. You can search for it or here’s a link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003R2SKIC.

Now back to our original blog post:

I did some basic investigation with the base off and the feeder hanging over my kitchen sink, while a strong breeze whistled through the open window, as you can see in the image at left.

The primary problem seems to be that the threads on the bottle are large and are prone to misthreading, but without seeming misthreaded. This is much more likely if the feeder bottle, base, or nectar are hot or even just warm.

The second issue is that the red hanger included with the feeder may cause it to hang at an angle. Even a slight misalignment, making the feeder unlevel, will cause the feeder to overfill and eventually leak. Blowing winds may also cause the feeder to become unlevel, overfill, and leak.

1. Be extremely careful when screwing the bottle onto the base. It is very easy to misthread this feeder without noticing it and without the feeder appearing to be misthreaded. When misthreaded the vacuum seal is broken and the base overflows.  If you see continuing bubbles after turning the feeder right side up and the base fills and leaking begins then take the feeder down, invert it again, and rethread it. When properly threaded you will only see bubbles inside the bottle when first turned upright, until the base fills, and then when the birds drink enough nectar that the base refills. Never use warm or hot nectar and never fill it until the feeder is completely cool! See #2, below.

2. Only ever use cold nectar when you fill the feeder and only ever fill the feeder when all parts of the feeder are cool. If you’ve just cleaned the feeder with hot water then run some cold water on it before filling. The threads on the feeder are large and easily misthreaded anyway. If the feeder is still warm from cleaning or the nectar is warm (or worse, hot) deformation of the plastic base and misthreading become even more likely. Always fill a cold feeder with cold nectar.

I use two items to clean my feeders. For the inside I use a metal stick with sponge strips attached, like the “Perky Pet 23T Bird Feeder Foam Cleaning Mop,” which has apparently and inexplicably been discontinued by the manufacturer. Boo! Be sure to crimp the metal tighter around the sponge bits). For the flowers, the nectar outlets, the base, and the exterior I use a typical two-part baby bottle and nipple brush combo, with a large scrubber on one end and a detachable small brush on the other end. I also remove and discard the little cage-like yellow insect guards because they get a buildup of dirt and nectar and really don’t keep insects out anyway.

3. Use only a metal “S” hook (not included with feeder) to suspend the feeder, so the feeder hangs level. If the feeder is not level the nectar can overflow on one side of the base. Do not use the red coated wire included inside the bottle to hang it up. The red wire can cause the feeder to hang at an angle, overfill, and leak nectar.

4. Hang the feeder where it will not be buffeted by wind. When wind blows on the feeder it can cause the feeder to become un-level, allowing the base opening on one side to be exposed, break the vacuum, overfill and cause leakage.

SAMSUNG

As you can see in the image at left, nectar normally only fills the base to a depth of about a 1/4 inch high. Unfortunately, if the feeder hangs at an angle or strong winds buffet the feeder about then the base opening is exposed, the vacuum seal gets broken, the base overfills, and it eventually, usually slowly, overflows. Conversely, if the bottle and base are misthreaded then the vacuum seal is broken and the base overfills and then nectar is constantly released into the base, usually causing fairly rapid loss of fluid.

*** The feeder may also become vacuum locked, so that no fluid descends into the base unit and the sweet little birdies cannot access their life-sustaining beverage. Sometimes this happens because the bottle is overly full, or because of internal construction misalignment, or atmospheric pressure is not cooperating with you, or because dirt from the hummer’s beaks has combined with the sticky nectar and blocked one or more ports. I never had this problem with my older Blue Bunting feeders. I bought two new feeders this year as spares (some of the flowers were cracking on my old units) and between a couple of mishaps I wound up using these. I don’t know whether it was something new they did to the build, or whether we’re just getting more pressure changes. If you can see grimy build-up on the ports then give them a good scrubbing. If the feeder is locked up due to atmospheric pressure or build, tilt it to one side until nectar spills out one of the ports. You may have to do this more than once to fix the problem.