Friday, 11 May 2012

Banana Bread and Almond-Maple Butter

* Quick side note: I have been thinking about how to divide up my recipes I post: particularly baked goods.  I will separate out the “everyday” stuff that I have modified to fit into a healthy lifestyle from my more “traditional” baked goods.  These are more once in a while treats, you know for game night or whatever… they are the recipes way too good to change around and really it is completely necessary to have a good cookie or cake every now and then.

The Banana Bread Saga

When we first arrived in Sydney the cost of everything, especially food was shocking.  We really do not know how good we have it back in the states.  Everything is so cheap!  Anyways, we (meaning me) are super frugal with the stuff we buy here.  To the extent that I think I have maybe bought 2 shirts on sale (for about $5 each) the entire time we have lived here.  The stores that sell things I would wear easily cost double what I would usually pay back home.  It has turned out to be a good way to save money I suppose.  I order in bulk from JCrew online and pick it up when we are in the states. 

This money saving scheme however does not work well with food… you know since we need to eat and we both have hearty appetites and all.  Therefore, we have adjusted and just don’t think too much about it anymore.  You can’t compare to how cheap you get stuff in the states because it will drive anyone crazy!  Because of my frugal nature, a lot of the recipes I will post I started making as a way to save money.  In the end, you save money and end up with healthier (with less preservatives) and most of the time much tastier versions than the store bought stuff.

Along this whole idea of crazy food costs, my favorite story is that of the humble banana. Before coming to Sydney, the poor banana was just added to the grocery cart every week as an afterthought.  Yes they turn brown quickly and bruise easily, yes if I don’t eat them in the first 2 days they will have brown spots and I no longer want them… but they are cheap!  And whatever I don’t eat turns into yummy banana bread! 
Fast forward to the move to Sydney last August.  Imagine our surprise to see bananas in the store selling for over $17/kilo… umm yeah that is close to $8/pound.  WHAT!?  For the humble banana?!  Apparently this was blamed on cyclones that had wiped out the crops.

I was sad thinking I was just not going to eat bananas while we were here. 
Luckily, bananas now are back to a normal price.  This means pre-run bananas with almond butter and fresh baked banana bread...

I have been baking banana bread since college.  I had always used my mom’s old recipe, which is great.  Over the years however, I have adapted it to make it easier and healthier.  This banana bread is good.  Really good.   It does have a “healthy” taste to it with the oat bran and is not overly sweet.  But the chocolate chips make it taste like a treat! This is a quick and easy breakfast we always have on hand.  Often times I will double the recipe and put half the batch in the freezer.  It is really good with a bit of homemade almond butter… 

 Start by mixing the honey and eggs together like so...

Whisk all the dry ingredients together...

Combine the honey mixture with the dry ingredients.  The batter will be thick.

 Mash up all your bananas...

 Add milk and vanilla to the mashed bananas...

Mix it all together until just combined... don't over-mix the batter!

At this point you can add in nuts, dried fruit or in my case mini chocolate chips- yum!

Pour it into your greased pan and it's ready to bake- easy :)

I usually have a bit extra batter... which I usually turn into a couple muffins.  I wanted to try out my new mini "doughnut" tin this time.  How cute are these?!  I'm gonna work on some baked doughnut recipes and get back to you with those (although these were delicious and gone right 
after I took the picture!)

Healthy Banana Bread

2 cups whole-wheat flour
¾ cup oat bran
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ cup honey
3 large eggs
3 large or 4 small bananas, mashed
½ cup skim milk (you could also use whatever milk or non-dairy milk you have on hand)
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup mini-chocolate chips or chopped nuts (both optional)

~ Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C)
~ Spray a loaf or muffin pans with cooking spray.  I use a 9” x 4” loaf pan and usually have a bit extra batter for a few muffins.
~ Whisk together the honey and eggs in a small bowl.
~ In a separate large bowl and whisk together the flour, oat bran, baking powder and baking soda.  Mix the honey mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well.
~ Mix together the mashed banana, milk and vanilla. 
~ Add the banana mixture to the batter and mix until just incorporated. 
~ Add chocolate chips or chopped nuts. 
~ Pour into greased pan and bake until top is brown and a toothpick comes out clean from the center.  Baking time approximately 20 minutes for muffins and 55-60 minutes for a loaf pan. 
~ Cool and enjoy!

 Since I mentioned having this with almond butter, I figured I would add the recipe I use.  No pictures of the actual process right now because I have a lot on hand already, but this is the finished product.  Yes, with Mickey.

You can get good nut butters from natural food stores, but they can be really expensive.  It is much more cost effective to buy large bags of nuts (often times the raw variety are the least expensive) and make your own.  It is really simple and the only thing that takes any time is the actual grinding in the food processor… so no real effort is needed!  I usually can find decent quality natural peanut butter at a good price, but not so much almond butter.  This is the one I usually make on my own.  The especially yummy part about this recipe is the maple flavor!  Clearly growing up in New Hampshire left me with an unhealthy obsession with all things maple.

Homemade Almond-Maple Butter

2 cups almonds
½ tsp maple extract
½ tsp sea salt
1 tsp maple syrup (optional and can be omitted)

~ Pre-heat oven to 325°F (160°C)
~ Spread almonds over a baking sheet and roast approximately 10 minutes, stirring every couple minutes to roast evenly.
~ Cool slightly on baking sheet for 10-15 minutes.
~ Process in food processor until smooth.  This process may take some time.  It will look like sand at first, then appears clumpy before starting to get creamy.  Scrape down the sides several times during the process.  Once it actually gets creamy, add the extract, syrup and salt and process an additional 2-3 minutes. 
~ Store in an airtight container in the fridge. 

Phew, this has been a lot of posting the past few days.  It's really just to get all my early thoughts out there since I procrastinated so much in starting the blog.  I think I will probably aim for 2-3 posts/week though.  We are also going to be getting a new camera, so hopefully this will motivate me to practice my photography skills and improve (there clearly is plenty of room for improvement).  

Hope everyone has a lovely weekend!

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