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  • Bourbon, Pecan and Salted Dark Chocolate Banana Bread

    You get all that in the title? Bourbon. Pecan. Salted Dark Chocolate. Banana Bread. 

    "Bread". Becaus let's be real here: this loaf is verging on a cake. Which, in my book, is just fine!

    This loaf came about when I was feeling a little (ok, a lot) down and sad. And for some reason, baking in general made me feel whole and happy. Sharing also made me feel good. I mean, when does it not? But it was that much better. This loaf, or cake, is not complicated, but the pay-off is great. Yes, you do need to get out your cutting board and a sharp knife to chop the pecans and dark chocolate (and yep, feel free to nibble away while you do, because....I know I am not the only one who does that). But I assure you, this is worth it. Also, lately I have been LOVING the heck out of my dough whisk. It truly does a wonderful job in thoroughly mixing quick breads, but not over-beating them to produce a tough, tunnel-ridden loaf. I got mine on Amazon, and highly recommend this tool for anyone who, like me, struggles to not over-mix quick breads! Game changer, for sure.Now, if you are looking for a more wholesome, more in-tune with your perhaps upcoming 2017 New Years Resolutions to Not Eat All the Sugar, check out the following: Gluten Free (but not full of weird flours) Banana Bread and/or Best Banana Bread for a vegan loaf. If you are looking to sabotage your health goals in a more gentle way, check out my Browned Butter Banana Bread! See, I got your back, whatever your goals may be! Heh...

    However, if you are in need of....

    • A sweet treat to go with your coffee early in the morning, when drinking all the hot things flood your mind as soon as your feet hit the cold kitchen floor
    • An easy, but special, host or hostess gift for an upcoming Holiday gathering
    • A relatively quick and fuss-free dessert, made even more indulgent covered with a quick chocolate ganache
    • A feel-good baked treat, to shove in your face by yourself or to share with others
    • Using up those overripe bananas languishing in your fruite bowl alongside that pomegranate you think is too beautiful to open, and those super sweet clemintines that come around this time of year
    • Something to bake to make your new apartment smell less like weird cleaning chemicals that the cleaning crew used to sweep your apartment of all traces of human DNA 

    Bonus round: this loaf smells like banana heaven while baking. All bananas go to heaven. Yep. Gather your bananas. Treat yourself to a bar (ok, or two!) of your favorite dark, salted chocolate (my favorite is Theo's Salted Dark Chocolate). Rummage your liquor cabinet for your bourbon. And splurge on those pecans in the bulk aisle, because this is soooo worth it. Happy baking, and stay warm!

    Notes: My first trials of this bread were using walnuts instead of pecans (see above picture of slices), but the pecan version overwhelmed me with the power of pecans to stand up to the robust flavors (like dark chocolate), and the sweetness in this loaf. But, feel free to use walnuts if you can't find or don't want to use pecans. As for the chocolate, I guessssssss salted chocolate is not required, but is a really, really lovely touch here, and also balances the sweetness of this loaf. Additionally, I have a weakness for the shards and chunks of chocolate that result when you chop the chocolate, rather than simply using chips, in this loaf but either work. Finally, the bourbon is not required, but strongly encouraged. If you don't have bourbon, a dark spiced rum (like Meyer's) will work beautifully, as would any other spicy, dark alocohol. If you don't have or don't want to add the booze, just add another dash or two of vanilla extract, and carry on! And finally, a word on sweetness: invariably, the ripeness of your bananas will influence this. You can bump up or knock down the brown sugar accordingly (using less for riper bananas, and vice versa). Similarly, if you want to verge more on cake territory, use the full 3/4 cup sugar. 



    Bourbon, Salted Dark Chocolate and Pecan Banana Bread // makes 1 standard 9"x5" loaf // certainly not gluten free, for sure not vegan, not a hint of plant-based, and full of refined sugar //

    • 4 large very ripe bananas
    • 1/3 cup (75g) melted virgin coconut oil or butter
    • 3/4 cup (145g) brown sugar, or use 1/2 cup (100g) for a less-sweet loaf
    • 1 egg, using locally sourced and/or organic when possible
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1/4 tsp sea salt
    • 1 TB bourbon
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
    • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1/4 tsp dried ginger
    • 1 1/2 cups (190g) unbleached, all-purpose flour 
    • 1/2 to 3/4 cups chopped dark salted chocolate, such as Theo's Sea Salt bar
    • 3/4 to 1 cup pecans, roughly chopped

    1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9"x6" loaf pan. Chop the chocolate into small to medium chunks/shards, and do the same with the pecans. Larger pieces are ok, as this makes for a lovely texture and visual appeal as the loaf is sliced. 

    2. Smash the bananas in a large bowl using a fork or potato masher. Add the melted coconut oil or butter, the egg, the vanilla, the sea salt, the bourbon, the cinnamon, the nutmeg and the ginger, and mix well. 

    3. Sift the flour directly into the wet mixture in step 2. Stir breifly, then add in the chopped chocolate and pecans, stirring just to combine. 

    4. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Smooth out the top if needed. Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until the loaf is deep golden brown and a tester inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Allow the loaf to cool for 10-15 minutes, and then carefully slide a knife or off-set spatula around the edges, and release the loaf from the pan onto a cooling rack. Allow to throughly cool, if you can, before slicing. If you wish to pour a chocolate ganache or glaze over the top, you must let the loaf cool all the way before doing so. Loaf may be stored, covered or in a container, in the fridge for up to 1 week, or be frozen whole or in slices, for up to 1 month.



    1. Chop chop chop....Measure/weigh, mash, crack that egg, add the booze and vanilla...re-assure yourself that this is going to be amazing, because you are amazing!Sift, gently stir, then add the chopped goodies...briefly stir once more to bring the batter together.Pour. Admire the textures and colors.Bake, enjoying the lovely aromas!And you've done it. Look at you, all on top of your banana bread/caking skills! Go you. Enjoy as desired, either plain, sliced in thick pieces, or drizzle with your favorite chocolate glaze or ganache once cooled. 

  • Orange, Hazelnut & Bourbon Biscotti // Lemon, Black Pepper & Walnut Biscotti

    **Update! August 2017: Turns out, lemon zest, walnuts and freshly ground black pepper make a delcious, floral and juuuust spicy enough combination to tickle your tongue...highly recommended for a lighter flavor-perfect for all seasons. See recipe notes below!**

    Alright. I don't exactly know how it is already December, BUT I do know that the holidays=cookie season. And hot beverage season. So naturally, biscotti rank high on my cookie list. Nothing is as satisfying as dunking a crunchy, nutty cookie into a hot cup of coffee (or whatever your hot beverage of choice is!). 

    I don't know about you, but, anytime during the day I can mentally and physically slow down enough to sit, make coffee or tea, and enjoy a treat is something I cherish. And even if you cannot manage to do this exact ritual, or don't need the sugar/caffeine rush, I think it is healthy to slow down during the day, take some deep breaths, and focus on the present. For December, I am making this practice one of my values for the month. Whether I will choose to do this before going to work amidst my morning routine, mid-day during work, or when I get home, I want to get back into expressing gratitude and being present each day (even if it is just for 5 minutes!). Because really, I think being a sane, grateful and kind person is a valuable gift we can give to the people in our lives, and our world at large, especially during the often stressful, emotional and hectic holiday season. Now, back to cookies! To be perfectly honest, this was my first ever batch of non-anise seed studded biscotti. Not going to lie, it felt a liiiittle like betrayal. My go-to recipe is from my Aunt (which she got from her mother-in-law, who is from Italian stock), and I have many fond memories of coming home after school, and being elated when seeing a small container of the golden crusted, anise seed studded cookies. Not too sweet, super crunchy, speckled with little bursts of black licorice from the anise seeds that would inevitably get stuck in your teeth, where they would hide as flavor bombs well after you were done munching. A perfect after school snack, I could easily munch down 3 or 4 of these treats while procrastinating on getting started with my homework (because eating biscotti > doing homework).

    But I realize that anise can be a polarizing flavor. When anise is invited to the holiday party, you know damn well that it will be staying for a while. Get out of the way, because anise likes to party-invading the dance floor, drinking all the holiday punch, and making a scene. And who drank the last of the egg nog? You bet your ass that it was anise. The presence of anise, strong and pronounced, is known immediately, and understandably, not everyone cares for this. Enter: a plays-well-with-others, even-tempered orange and hazelnut character, mellowed with vanilla and bourbon. I was extremely happy with the results after tweaking an Alice Medrich recipe to my liking (from "Chew Gooey Crispy Crunch Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies"): the crunch factor and texture were spot-on, the flavors were well balanced, and the test of dunking a biscotto into a hot foamy latte passed with flying colors (and don't worry, I verified this seveal times for research purposes). Beyond being delicious treats to savor alone, or with a mug of hot-something, biscotti of any variety are ideal for the holidays: they keep very well, growing crunchier as they sit (put them in a pretty container on your counter next to your coffee maker); they also ship with ease, and travel like champions, so are perfect for sending to people you love around the holidays (and I don't think any sane host/hostess would turn down a tin of biscotti as a thank-you gift!). Simply put: make a big batch, store them in the freezer or on the counter in an air-tight container or jar, then share and enjoy! Notes: while the hazelnut flavor is amazing, I realize finding good quality raw hazelnuts to toast at home is a challenge at times, so substituting your favorite raw nut of choice, and freshly toasting at home, would be perfectly acceptable. Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and even pecans, would work here (or heck, try a combination!). They key, as I mentionted, is to freshly toast raw nuts to ensure optiumum freshness and flavor. Using your discretion based on what type of nut you use, adapt which extracts and booze to use in the recipe, but please strive to use pure extracts, and booze that you would actually drink (i.e. no Fleishmann's here!). I favor a high quality vanilla extract, and am working through a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel. Rum, Drambuie, Frangelico, Brandy and Sambucca are all worthy contenders, based on your preferences for booze. In addition, seek out high quality extracts, reading ingredient labels to make sure no corn syrup or other nasty additives are present. And lastly, yes, the orange zest would be completely adaptable to another type of citrus zest (lemon! lime! bergamot!), but is also completely optional if you get right down to it. One could also sneak in some finely chopped dark chocolate as well to this recipe! But truly, the orange/hazelnut/bourbon combination is a winner for sure. 



    Orange & Hazelnut Biscotti // Lemon, Walnut & Black Pepper Biscotti**// makes 15-18 larger 4" to 6" long cookies, or 24 smaller 2" to 3"  long cookies //

    • 1 heaping cup whole hazelnuts, or nut of choice, freshly toasted
    • 1 cup (4.5 oz) unbleached all purpose flour*
    • 1 cup  (4.5 oz) spelt flour*
    • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp sea salt
    • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1 cup (7 oz) sugar
    • zest of 1 orange, or citrus of choice, organic if possible
    • 4 TB melted butter, or 4 TB extra virgin olive oil
    • 3 large eggs
    • 2 TB bourbon, or booze of choice
    • 2 tsp vanilla extract, or extract of choice

    *feel free to use either 100% all purpose flour OR 100% spelt flour, or a combination as noted

    **to make the lemon, walnut & black pepper variation, replace orange zest with lemon zest, walnuts with hazelnuts (no need to peel the walnuts!), and add 1 heaping teaspoon of *freshly* ground black pepper, with more finely ground working the best (or else you'll sift most of it out). As for extracts and booze, you can omit them entirely and let the flavors of the lemon and black pepper shine, or do as you wish, and add the bourbon and vanilla!**

    1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spread nuts on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. Toast nuts until fragrant, about 7-10 minutes. If using hazelnuts, after toasting, transfer slightly cooled nuts to a kitchen towel, wrap, and begin to rub the skins off by massaging the hazelnuts in the towel. Shake partially skinned hazelnuts into a colander, rub together with hands to get remaining skins off. 

    2. Transfer skinned nuts into bowl of food processor, and process into a coarse meal. Alternatively, coarsely chop nuts with a sharp knife. 

    3. In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, sea salt and nutmeg. Add chopped nuts and stir to combine. 

    4. In another large bowl, combine the sugar and the orange zest. Rub together to work the oils out of the orange zest until the sugar is moist and fragrant with the orange oil. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the melted butter or olive oil, and then finally whisk in the booze and extracts. 

    5. Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture with the chopped nuts. Stir until a moist, thick and sticky batter is formed. Using lightly oiled or moistened hands, turn the batter out onto a an oiled parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. Form the batter into a long rectangle of even thickness that is 12"-14" long and 4"-5" wide, using the larger measurements for smaller, shorter cookies. 

    6. Bake the rectangle for 45-50 minutes, until firm to the touch and dry in appearance. Allow the log to cool for 15-30 minutes, until cool to touch, and then slice using a serratd knife into 1/2" to 1" thick slices. If desired, cut on a bias or a diagonal. Place sliced biscotto back onto the baking sheet, and return to the oven for the second bake for 40-55 minutes, flipping the cookies halfway through baking, until golden brown. Allow to cool, and then store in airtight containers at room temperature or in the freezer.



  • Sea Salt & Cacao Nib Brownies (+ Brownie Sundaes with Whiskey Pepper Chocolate Magic Shell from "Food With Friends")

    Summer, my friends, calls for ice cream. Of all sorts, shapes, sizes, methods of delivery. Shakes, malts, cones, sandwiches, cakes, dip cones. And the ultimate: the sundae. In my mind, the ice cream cake is  a close second, but the sundae reigns supreme 'cause you get to top it with WHATEVER you want each time. Cakes bind your creativity, with having the same "cake" for 8-12 slices with the same...stuff...in/on it.

    The fickle, flakey, ever-changing nature of my personality loves the sundae. The endless options. Ice cream: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, rocky road...the toppings: crushed cookies, brownie chunks, salted peanuts, praline pecans, crunchy Maldon salt flakes, strawberries, raspberries, blackcaps....the sauces: fudgey, chocolatey, caramely...the extras: SPRINKLES. whipped cream, cherries. You know the deal. Something about how cold, creamy, sweet ice cream meeting with hot, instantly-turns-viscous, or even completely solid, caramel/chocolate sauce, and topped with crunchy, sweet, salty, fruity things just melts my heart. It takes me back to visits to Culvers (my stepdad and mom go there during the summer, and the turtle sundae is pretty hardcore). To Dairy Queen stops with my Dad as a kid (he would always stop when he would tote along my sister and I to gun shows...the greatest debate still stands: chocolate, cherry OR butterscotch dip cone?? And WHY can't they just do all THREE on one cone?!). And finally, to the simple combo of freshly picked strawberries, blackcaps, or raspberries tossed with a bit of pure cane sugar, macerated until juicy, and piled high over the top of vanilla ice cream to produce purple-pink swirls of creamy, summery goodness. My grandma would buy (...ok, ok, she still does buy) those biiiig plastic gallon tubs, with a handle, full of vanilla-infused kid bait. Often times, she would bribe us to "FEED THE CHICKENS!!" with this simple summer treat of berries and ice cream (but let me be clear, berries and ice cream was a special treat, as most days, for feeding the chickens or doing whatever chores she had for us, we would get a rock hard piece of expired generic bubble gum...HA). For birthdays, she would step it up one notch: berries, ice cream and angel food cake. Which, let me be honest, is another whole story, one that ends (at least on my part) in a cruel plot twist. Oh grandma, you trickster you...

    ANYWAYS. For how much I (clearly) friggin' love these ice cream treat situations, I don't indulge enough in them. This, my friends, is changing TODAY. And come on, you need to treat yo'self, too! You are worth it. And, summer!!!This sundae is friendly. It plays nice with those who cannot eat the gluten and the dairy. If you want to go all out, you can top the sundae with your favorite whipped cream, and a cherry. I was simply too infatuated with the chocolate bourbon magic shell to do those things, but really, points for you if you do. And I suppose you could just eat the brownie as-is, without doing the sundae business, since these brownies are very, very good in their own right. They are my current go-to brownie, and have been for about 2 years now. Their only flaw is that they are a *touch* crumbly, so be sure to not over bake them. But hell, even if you do, the crumbles are still perfect for ice cream! And pro tip: if the brownies are cold or frozen, simply zap them in the microwave for a few seconds to warm and soften them up before piling on the ice cream and toppings. 

    Ok, and now...this magic shell business. MAGIC, you say. Well, it isn't reeeeeally magic, in fact, it is simply medium chain triglycerides (or "MCTs" for those keeping up with colloquial, semi-scientific terminology) that have similar fatty acids attached to their glycerol backbone molecule, which yields an oil with sharp melting, and solidification, temperatures. Meaning: you pour the chocolate sauce made with coconut oil over cold ice cream, and it "magically" solidifies before your eyes. It is really just basic lipid science, but we'll stick with "magic". What else is magical about this chocolate sauce? The bourbon, the black pepper, the sea salt and the cloves. Oh, and it seriously takes about 5 minutes to stir together. Count another 1 minute to scoop your favorite ice cream (I love me some Vanilla Island Luna & Larry's Coconut Bliss) into a bowl, drizzle with the magic shell, wait about 30 seconds for it to harden, and there you have yourself a mighty fine, super quick and easy summer dessert. I tell ya, Food with Friends mastermind Leela Cyd knows what she is doing on all food/entertaining fronts. I am really loving her book, and will be providing more feedback on it for my first Blogging for Books review. I just couldn't wait any longer to share the magic shell recipe...so just...go with it. Side note: a jar of this magic shell would make an amazing host/hostess gift. Look at you...all generous and kind to yourself and others. Happy summer and sundae'ing!



    Brownies with cacao nibs, walnuts and sea salt // plant-based; vegan; gluten-free; soy-free; low FODMAP// makes 9 large, or 16 small, brownies //

    • 1 cup almond flour 
    • 3/4 cup oat flour, certified gluten free if necessary
    • 1/2 cup raw cacao, or natural cocoa powder (do not use dutch process/alkalized), plus extra for dusting baking pan
    • 4 tsp finely ground flax seeds, or flax seed meal (could also substitute very finel ground chia seeds)*
    • 1 TB arrowroot powder**
    • 1/2 tsp sea salt
    • 1/4 tsp baking soda
    • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
    • 1/2 cup semi or bittersweet chocolate chips or baking chocolate
    • 1/4 cup plus 2 TB melted virgin coconut oil, plus extra for baking pan
    • 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
    • 1/4 cup plant-based milk, using nut free if necessary, 
    • 2 tsp vanilla extract
    • add ins: 1/4 to 1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks or chips, 1/4 cup cacao nibs, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts 
    • to top the brownies: large flake sea salt, such as Maldon 

    *I make flax meal by pulsing whole golden flax seeds in my coffee grinder until the seeds are completely pulverized and powdery.

    **this is completely optional, as I have successully made these brownies without it many times. The arrowroot helps to bind the brownies together a bit more upon baking, but do not fret if you do not add it. The brownies will turn out fine as-is, just be sure to allow them to cool 100% before cutting. 

    1. Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare an 8"x8" baking pan by lining with parchment OR by greasing it with coconut oil and dusting it with cocoa powder. Do not skip the parchment or oil/cocoa powder, as these brownies will stick if you do. Let me learn these mistakes for you :)

    2. Into a large bowl, sift the almond flour, oat flour, cacao/cocoa powder, flax seeds, sea salt, baking soda, arrowroot powder and cinnamon. Set aside.

    3. In a medium bowl that is microwave safe, or in a medium sized sauce pan, combine the 1/2 cup chocolate chips or baking chocolate and coconut oil. Melt the chocolate and coconut oil, stirring to combine. Once melted, off the heat, and add in the cane sugar and milk. Stir to combine. 

    4. Add the melted chocolate mixture to the dry sifted ingredients, along with the vanilla extract, extra chocolate chips or chunks, cacao nibs and walnuts. Stir to thoroughly combine. The mixture should be thick, but still a touch goopy. If the mixture is too stiff, add in a TB or two of milk until the consistency is that of proper brownie batter.

    5. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan, and spread it evenly out into the pan. Pat down the top to make an even surface, and to slightly compress the batter into the ban. Top with flakey sea salt, if desired. 

    6. Bake the brownies for 28 to 33 minutes, or until the center of the brownies is just starting to firm up. If you here a bit of moisture still bubbling in the brownies, that is ok. These brownies are better left under baked a touch than over baked.

    7. Allow the brownies to cool COMPLETELY before cutting. If you used parchment, simply lift the entire works out of the pan, and onto a surface to cut. If you greased and cocoa dusted the pan, cut with a sharp knife and use a small off-set spatula to get the brownies out. Store in an air tight container in the fridge for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 1 month. 



    Whiskey Pepper Magic Shell from "Food with Friends" // adapted for a 1/2 batch, double measurements for the recipe as-written by Leela with my comments in parenthesis // 

    • 1 cup semi or bittersweet chocolate
    • 1/4 cup coconut oil (I used virgin coconut oil, but used refined if you do not like the mild coconut flavor of virgin coconut oil)
    • 1 TB but 1/2 tsp of your favorite bourbon or rye whiskey (I used Four Roses single barrel Kentucky straigh bourbon whiksey, as it is indeed one of my favorites!)
    • 1/4 tsp large flake sea salt (or a generous pinch, I used Maldon)
    • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/4 tsp ground cloves (I used just a pinch, as I am sensitive to clove flavor)

    1. In a small sauce pan, or microwave safe bowl, combine the chocolate and coconut oil. Melt, taking care to not burn the chocolate. 

    2. Stir in the remaining ingredients, taking care to not add them when the melted chocolate and coconut oil are too hot, as this will flash-off the booze and volatile oils in the spices. If the sauce is a bit too thick after adding the bourbon, add in a TB or two of melted coconut oil. The goal is a drizzly, thin sauce that will form a thin chocolate shell. 

    3. Use immedieately by drizzling as much of the sauce as you would like over ice cream, and waiting about 20 seconds for it to firm up. Or, for later use and gifting purposes, simply store in a glass jar or conainer in the fridge for up to 1 week. For future ice cream use: gently reheat the sauce to a consistency that can be drizzled or poured before enjoying.



    First things first: the BROWNIES. Get yourself some cacao nibs (I shelled some from whole cocoa beans from Dandelion Chocolate)Now, organize, prep baking pan, measure, melt, snack on chocolate. Oh and preheat that oven, yo!You know what to do: mix!Into the greased and cocoa dusted pan (or parchment paper lined). Batter slightly compressed, evened on the top, and sprinkled with crunchy sea salt flakes.Baked, cooled all the way through, then cut. Some crumbs will happen, but you know what to do with those...patience is rewarded with intact brownies. Rejoice!

    Ok, now you prepare yourself some MAGIC SHELL. With BOURBON. Yes!

    Simply melt the chocolate and coconut oil, then sprinkle in the sea salt flakes (intact flakes are good!), freshly cracked black pepper and cloves.Have yourself a mini-party, and add the bourbon! The mixture may thicken a bit, but not to worry. Adding another TB or two of melted coconut oil will smooth things out. We want a thin, drippy consistency to drizzle over ice cream!Into a jar, and used right away. OR, covered, stored in the fridge, and gently reheated for future drizzling, magic needs.The needs are real. Get on it! Brownie + Ice Cream + Magic Shell + Sprinkles. Waiting 30 seconds hardens the magic shell! MAGIC!Add sprinkles, and you know what to do...