chocolate chip pecan banana bread

Today is National Banana Bread Day. Who would’ve thought there was such a thing? But there is. And I’m observing it.

When I was growing, up my aunts made great banana bread, so to me it’s comfort food. I love that it’s sweet but still a bit wholesome. One of my favorite afternoon snacks is a slice of homemade banana bread with a hot cup of tea. And if I were a sweets in the morning kind of girl, I’d really enjoy it for breakfast as well.

I have a tendency to let my bananas ripen past their prime, which doesn’t bother me much because those are the best bananas for making bread. Any excuse to make banana bread is fine by me. I just can’t bare to let those unidentifiable blackened bananas go to waste.

Over the years I’ve tried several different banana bread recipes, but this is the one I’ve been making over and over for the past year. It’s full of things I love, like bittersweet chocolate, toasted pecans and shredded coconut. It’s moist and light with a hint of cinnamon and vanilla. Plus, it’s like the easiest recipe ever, so there’s no reason not to get out those ripened bananas and start baking. Have yourself a very happy Banana Bread Day!

chocolate chip pecan banana bread

makes 1 9×5-inch loaf or 2 7-1/2×3-1/2-inch loaves

butter or non-stick spray for pans

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 cup mashed bananas (about 3 super ripe bananas)

1/3 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease your loaf pan(s). Set aside.

In a medium size bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

In a small bowl, combine chocolate chips, pecans, shredded coconut and 1/4 cup of the sifted flour mixture and toss until coated. This will help prevent the ingredients from sinking to the bottom of the bread. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugars and oil. Add the eggs, one at a time until well combined. Add the mashed bananas. Pour the vanilla into the buttermilk. Alternate adding flour and buttermilk to the banana mixture,  beginning and ending with the flour. Gently fold  in the pecans, chocolate chips and coconut.

Pour batter into prepared pan(s) 2/3 of the way full. For two small loaves, bake for 45-50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. For one large loaf, bake 1 hour and 15 minutes or until cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool 20-30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

spaghetti alla chitarra with sea urchin and dungeness crab

At about this time last year, one of my favorite restaurants was serving a pasta dish with Dungeness crab and sea urchin. Unfortunately, by the time I got around to having dinner there, it was no longer on the menu. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

For starters, I pretty much love anything that comes from the sea. But Dungeness crab and sea urchin, otherwise known as uni, are at the top of my list. So when I imagined the two together, it just blew my mind a little bit.

If you have never tasted uni, I must say it is definitely not for everyone. It has a custard-like texture and a sort of buttery, salty flavor. It is commonly served in Japanese restaurants, sashimi style, the only way I had ever had it. Which made the idea of a warm uni dish that much more enticing to me.

I waited an entire year with the hope that this dish would reappear on the menu. But I either missed it again or it just never happened. So I decided that I would have to make it myself. When I spotted a recipe for spaghetti alla chitarra with sea urchin and crab while flipping through the pages of The Young Man and the Sea, I knew the stars were aligning. In the end I used a different recipe, but it was a good place to start. And then I planned a field trip to Tokyo Fish Market, my new favorite store.

This pasta is nothing shy of perfection. The sauce is silky and rich without being overwhelming. And the sweetness of the crab is the perfect compliment to the brininess of the uni, which is fantastic warm. The combination was even more incredible than I had imagined; all of the flavors and textures work beautifully together. I feel like I need to toot my horn a little bit because even my toughest critic fell in love with this dish (it really is that good!). I might be somewhat biased since I love me my seafood, but… toot-toot!

spaghetti alla chitarra with sea urchin and crab

adapted from Wine Enthusiast Magazine

serves 4

1 pound dried chitarra or spaghetti

2 ounces extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, sliced thin

4 leeks, white and light green parts only, cut into small dice

2 ounces dry white wine

1/2 cup chicken stock

8 ounces sea urchin (2 trays of cleaned sea urchins)

8 ounces Dungeness crab meat, about 1 whole crab*, or jumbo lump crabmeat

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 lemon, zested and reserved for juice

1 pinch crushed chili flakes

sea salt

chives (for garnish)

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender but still slightly firm to the bite,  7-9 minutes.

Reserve 4-5 pieces of sea urchin for garnish and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil followed by the garlic. Sweat garlic lightly, then add leeks. Cook on low to medium heat until tender, then add wine.

Add chicken stock immediately after the wine and reduce slightly. Add sea urchin and break it up slightly. Add crab at the very end when sauce is off the heat.

Add cooked pasta to sauce with a touch of the pasta cooking water. Add butter and emulsify slowly into the sauce.

Finish with lemon juice, lemon zest, chili flakes and sea salt.

Divide pasta amongst the bowls. Top each bowl with a piece of sea urchin and sprinkle with chives.

*You can usually buy a whole cooked crab at the market, but it’s less expensive (and often more tasty) to buy a live crab and steam it yourself at home.

To steam your crab:

Fill a large stock pot with 2-3 inches of water, just below where the rack will sit (if you don’t have a steaming rack, you can use a bowl placed upside down at the bottom of the pot). Add 6 ounces of beer to the water (optional) and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, place the crab inside the pot and cover with a lid. Steam for 15 minutes. Remove the crab and let cool until cool enough to handle.

Click here for tips on cracking and cleaning your crab.

chocolate ice cream with pumpkin seed brittle (and olive oil and sea salt)

I thought you all might want something sweet for Valentine’s Day. Oh, Valentine’s Day. I like Valentine’s Day because it’s a free pass to eat chocolate. I used to make truffles for Valentine’s Day. But I got a little lazy this year and thought ice cream would be better. Because you can make it in advance. And who doesn’t love ice cream?

I’ll let you in on a little secret – I very rarely crave ice cream. If ice cream is nearby, like if I happen to be in a certain neighborhood and I pass a certain ice creamery, I wont say no. But I typically don’t buy it at the market or keep it stocked in my freezer. Of course, now that I’m the proud owner of an ice cream maker, I don’t really have to. In case you were wondering, an ice cream maker is a sure way to get yourself into some dietary trouble.

So, back to chocolate ice cream. This one is great. It’s custard based so it’s rich but somehow sort of light at the same time.  And perfectly chocolatey (use the best chocolate and cocoa you can get your hands on). It’s really nice on its own. But it’s even more fantastic topped with a few hunks of pumpkin seed brittle. And a drizzle of olive oil. And a sprinkle of coarse sea salt. Get ready to fall in love. xo.

chocolate ice cream with pumpkin seed brittle (and olive oil and sea salt)

from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

makes 1 about quart

2 cups heavy cream

3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup whole milk

3/4 cup sugar

pinch of salt

5 large egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

pumpkin seed brittle (see recipe below)

extra virgin olive oil, for garnish (I like Stonehouse Olive Oil)

coarse sea salt, for garnish  (I like Maldon or fleur de sel is nice, too)

In a medium saucepan, whisk the cocoa powder into 1 cup of cream. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer at a very low boil for 30 seconds, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth. Stir in the remaining 1 cup cream. Pour the mixture into a large bowl, scraping the saucepan as thoroughly as possible. Set a mesh strainer on top of the bowl.

Prepare an ice bath in a bowl/basin large enough to hold your mixing bowl.

Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in the same saucepan. In a separate medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the warmed egg yolks into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir into the chocolate mixture until smooth, then stir in the vanilla. Place in the ice bath and stir until cool.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

pumpkin seed brittle

adapted from

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup honey

1/2 cup pepitas

Line an 11×17-inch rimmed baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in sugar and honey. Bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, until mixture is medium amber and a candy thermometer registers 280°F, about 6 minutes. Stir in pumpkin seeds. Cook until mixture reaches 300°F, about 2 minutes. Pour onto prepared baking sheet. Let cool completely. Break into pieces.

orange and fennel salad

I ate really well last week. By well, I wish I meant sensibly. In this case, well means dinner at Zuni with Lee followed by dinner at Zero Zero with the ladies. There was wine and cocktails and kumamoto oysters and roasted chicken and pork belly and striped bass and pizza and soft serve. You get the idea. It was serious.

After all that scrumptiousness, I was ready for a salad. I couldn’t stop thinking about this orange and fennel salad that I passed up the other night. So I knew what I had to do.

Oranges, actually, have been on my mind quite a bit these days.  I thought I got them out of my system with the marmalade mission. But lately I’ve been really into cara caras, a red navel orange with a little bit of complexity. And now that blood oranges are finally in season, I really can’t stop. I love blood oranges. I love their gorgeous color and cherry flavor. Plus, they’re full of antioxidants. I love those, too.

I also love fennel, which is fantastic paired with oranges. Shaved fennel becomes slaw-like when tossed with a little sea salt and vinaigrette. And the sugar from the oranges brings out the fennels natural sweetness. I liked it topped with a little bit of grana, which was a nice contrast in flavor. This is one of the easiest salads to throw together and so satisfying. I love the brightness of this salad, both in color and flavor – it almost makes you forget that it’s winter.

orange and fennel salad

serves 4

4 oranges ( I used a combination of blood and cara cara oranges)

2 medium fennel bulbs

1/2  small red onion

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon honey

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

white pepper

sea salt

grana padano (for shaving)

With a paring knife, cut the tops and bottoms from oranges. Starting from the top, cut the peel and membrane from the fruit, making sure to expose the flesh completely. Cut oranges into slices. Set aside.

Remove the tops and bottoms from the fennel. Cut the fennel in half. Slice thin and place in a bowl. Cut the onion into paper-thin slices and add to the bowl with the fennel.

In a small bowl, add the lemon juice and honey and whisk until combined. Season with salt and white pepper. Slowly whisk olive oil into the juice until slighty emulsified and well combined. Adjust salt as needed.

Pour the vinaigrette over the fennel and onions. Toss to coat evenly. Arrange the orange slices on a serving plate and then place fennel on top in a mound. Pour the excess vinaigrette over the oranges. Shave the grana over the fennel. Garnish with a few fennel fronds.