You may have noticed the snazzy button on the left. I'm honoured to be nominated for a Best Food Blog Award from Saveur Magazine, in the category of Best Cooking Blog. If you'd like to vote, please click the links, or that award badge on the sidebar. The polls closed April 9th., and congratulations to the winners! Thank you for any and all support. xo

 

The world may not need another banana bread recipe, but banana bread is what I'd offer if you were to come over for coffee today. It has roasted bananas, oats, a whole bunch of seeds and nuts, and then a streusel-ish top. And chocolate. There's chocolate in there. Hopefully you'd be up for a slice.

choco-oat-nut roasted banana bread | tara o'brady

I took Home Economics in grade seven. We sewed stuffed animals, learned to iron, and baked a coffee cake that was my first introduction to a New York-style crumb. At the end of each day, we’d do the dishes. The teacher taught us to fill a sink with hot, soapy water at the start of class in anticipation; as we dirtied dishes, in they’d go, so when it was time for clean up, they were already soaking. Knives were the exception. Knives went on the counter, set to one side. "The last thing you want," she'd say, "is to plunge your hand in a sink full of water and find a blade."

For a long time, I was afraid of the knife in the dishwater. The biggest risks in my life were those that happened too fast to for me to consider them first. I didn't jump in, or leap, or leave things to fate. 

In light of all that, it may seem uncharacteristic of me to encourage you to take this recipe and run with it. Seriously. Take note of the basics and go, go, go from there. I've talked about (almost) this one before, in UPPERCASE a few years ago, and it's close to an old standby. As with most breads of its size and ilk there is a basic ratio of (around) 2 cups flour to 3 or 4 bananas to 2 eggs. Fats, from butter to coconut oil to olive oil, will vary, but not by much. 1/3 cup is fairly average. Stay in those parameters, and the possibilities open from there; swap the nuts, add candied ginger or dried fruit. It will be different each time, and almost assuredly very good. 

choco-oat-nut roasted banana bread | tara o'brady

This specific combination came about because of William. He wanted us to make banana bread, and I agreed. As any child in his position would do, Will then proceeded to take best advantage, suggesting we incorporate his favourite things into the loaf. Walnuts, sure. Maple syrup, you betcha. (His grandfather is in the thick of sugaring season.) Cinnamon, alrighty. And because he is five-almost-six years old, chocolate chips. That loaf was gone in a flash. 

A few days later, with a craving for more bread and without any ripe bananas around, I baked barely-ripe fruit to replicate that deep, caramel sweetness of almost-past-their-prime specimens. Once allover black and smelling like butterscotch, I mashed them in the bowl with the sugars, oil (olive, as I was going for a peppery, green sharpness), brown sugar, maple syrup, and eggs. Though it is better form to whisk the dry ingredients before adding to the wet, I was trying to save on bowls for cleanup, so unceremoniously dumped the flours et al on top—it's worth doing the same. When looking for bananas in the freezer I had come across the last spoonfuls of various seeds stashed in there, thought to use them up. 

Sour cream followed for even more sharpness and extra moisture, then chocolate, and nuts. My choice of chocolate is regular bar-style, chopped. I like how chunks push and melt into the batter, so there are pockets of richness in the crumb, but you could stick with William and go for chips. They stay in their discreet kiss shapes, firm and vaguely resistant to the tooth. 

Since I still had seeds to use, streusel solved the problem. The laziest streusel, really. Simply some more oats, flour, seeds, and spice, dampened with olive oil. One last banana arranged on top, and we were off.

choco-oat-nut roasted banana bread | tara o'brady

The bread was not what was expected. I had envisioned it would be more like a dessert, but it was restrained. Cake-ish, but still bread. Moderately sweet, tender, stodgy in that way that we know and love about banana breads. While, yes, it is packed crust to crust with all manner of good things, there's not enough of one specific thing to pull attention. The streusel comes closest, baking up scraggly and cracked, but it adds more chew than crunch. The walnuts and oats contribute similarly, and the overall impression is a surprisingly wholesome, a bit woollen, and gentle.

It's a reliable loaf. I am convinced it would get you through Home Ec, and whatever were to follow.

 

 CHOCO-OAT-NUT ROASTED BANANA BREAD

 A note on pans. My original recipe upon which this Frankensteinian version is based fills a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. I think this one would squeeze into that size, with an increase in baking time and you'd probably have to tent it with foil towards the end, too. The trouble is, with all the extras added, I'm not absolutely certain that it would emerge with an impressive crown rather than ooze all over the oven. If you give it a go, please report back with your findings.

To that end, and as the last thing I want to do is lead you astray, the directions below reflect the pan I used this time, a long, narrow one, or the alternate option of a tube pan. When using the latter, start checking for doneness at the 50-minute mark. 

FOR THE BREAD

  • Butter for greasing the pan
  • 4 bananas, ripe but firm
  • 1/2 cup (65 g) walnut pieces
  • 1/2 cup (105 g) dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup (125 ml) pure maple syrup, grade B is my preference, but I'll take whatever dad has boiled
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (95 g) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (105 g) whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup (50 g) rolled oats
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons mixed seeds (I used sunflower, hemp hearts and sesame)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon medium-grained kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) sour cream or thick, plain yogurt (not nonfat)
  • 4 ounces (115 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped

FOR THE TOPPING

  • 1 tablespoon rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons mixed seeds
  • 1 tablespoon flour (all-purpose or whole wheat)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 banana, ripe but firm

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 350°/175°C with a rack in the lower third. Grease a 14-by-4.5-inch loaf pan with butter. Line with parchment paper, with long sides overhanging. Butter the parchment. Alternatively, butter and flour a standard tube pan, knocking out excess.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then place the 4 bananas, whole and unpeeled, on top. Bake until the skin is deeply roasted on both sides, but not split, 20 to 30 minutes. Flip once during baking, and add the walnut to the tray for the last 10 minutes of roasting. Remove the bananas to a bowl to collect their juices. Chop the walnuts and set aside.

Once the bananas have cooled a little, remove the peels and leave the fruit in the bowl. Mash to a pulp with the brown sugar. Beat in the maple syrup, olive oil, followed by the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. Stir in the vanilla. Sprinkle the flours, oats, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger on top of the wet ingredients. Fold to almost combine, then spoon in the sour cream. Give a few more turns, then gently incorporate the chocolate and walnuts. Scape the batter into the prepared pan. 

In a small bowl, stir together the oats, seeds, flour, cinnamon, and olive oil until it clumps. Honestly, I do this with my fingers, and scrunch it together. Peel and slice the banana into thirds lengthwise. Scatter the streusel over the batter, then arrange the banana on top. Bake in the preheated oven until the bread is golden and puffed, and a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean of batter (chocolate doesn't count), 60 to 70 minutes. Cool on a wire rack 10 minutes, then use the parchment to lift the loaf onto the rack to cool completely. 

Makes 1 loaf.

 

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Finally, another piece of news! I will be speaking at Food Bloggers of Canada's conference this fall. I will be partnered with Robert McCullough, Vice President, Random House of Canada and publisher at Appetite by Random House, and the Canadian publisher of my book. The event will be in Vancouver, BC on October 17-19th. Details are on their site, and I'll be sure to share more particulars as they're finalized. Hope to see you there!

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I'm running terribly, terribly late.

It's a recent tendency of mine. I was almost late for a holiday get together of my own organizing, and I'm regularly the last one up in the mornings. I'm not proud. But, as I'm here with a silky, milky, lush bowl of breakfasty goodness, well, maybe you won't mind the tardiness much.

Poached + Blistered Figs

Over a month ago, verging on a month-and-half ago, Megan's book, Whole Grain Mornings,  was released. She's a busy lady, not just with the book, but writing for The Kitchn and elsewhere, and she's behind the exceptionally-hearalded Marge Granola (a line named after her grandmother, with super cute packaging and an apricot flavour that has my attention). 

Since I am one of the people who helped test recipes, I can't offer up a full-on book review. I can tell you, however, that in my cupboard there is a jar of her whole grain pancake mix (with spelt, oats and buckwheat), and that the resulting flapjacks are surprisingly, unbelievably fluffy, despite their virtue.

Creamy Breakfast Grains

I can also be frank about her creamy breakfast grains, a bowl of which I'm eating right now, in the middle of the afternoon, with a cup of tea. 

I made my snack with pearled barley, because I already had some cooked. I don't think Megan will mind, as one of the most charming things about her is her repeated encouragement to make her recipes your own. She supplies are footnotes and headnotes of suggestions, and her cheerful enthusiasm for the dishes is apparent.

In this grain porridge, barley was a fine fit. Its roundness seems to contribute to its chewiness, and the smooth pearls retain all their shape and springiness, even after a second cooking. The pistachios have a hint of crunch, but not that much; the waxy nuts are almost the same density as the grains, and match exceptionally nicely. The stars of the affair are, of course, the figs. The recipe calls for fresh, but if none are around, her method would be the way to encourage some life back into dried ones.

Megan poaches the figs gently, to the point where they feel plump and heavy, just this side of bursting. They absorb the resiny murmur from the honey in the cooking liquid, while the syrup gains a musky edge from the fruit. Split, then draped in an extra dressing of syrup, the figs are a proper treat at breakfast, and would be as welcome at dessert as they were at tea time, which could be said of many of the book's recipes. Though I've mentioned the sweeter side of the collection, it has a savoury side to share — lunch and dinner inspiration may be found, too.

Congratulations Megan, on all the success. Hurrahs from here. xo

Creamy Breakfast Grains

CREAMY BREAKFAST GRAINS with HONEY-POACHED FIGS + PISTACHIOS

From Whole Grain Mornings: New Breakfast Recipes to Span the Seasons (Ten Speed Press, 2013). 

Rice pudding is one of my ultimate comfort foods, so developing this creamy whole-grain breakfast rice was a real treat, and I now turn to this recipe year-round. It's not too sweet on its own, relying instead on the earthy flavour of ripe fall figs. While many people prepare breakfast rice by actually cooking the rice in milk, I love this cheater's version because it uses cooked rice that's quickly heated in a pot of milk, so it gets super creamy and soft while still maintaining its characteristic chew. I'll often make a double batch of rice for dinner in the evening, knowing I want to get a pot of this going the next morning. 

Poaching figs is simple, but there's a fine line between perfectly poached and overdone. I poach figs with the stems on and remove them later—this will help keep them from getting mushy. Smaller figs cook quicker. Ultimately, you want the figs soft but not splitting or bursting open—always a delicate balance. Erring on the side of underpoaching is preferable. — Megan

Serves 4.

FOR THE FIGS

  • 3 cups water
  • 3/4 cup / 180 ml honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 10 washed ripe fresh gigs (about 8.5 ounces / 240 g; I like black Mission or Brown Turkey)

FOR THE CREAMY GRAINS

  • 3 cups / 400 g cooked long-grain brown rice
  • 1 1/2 cups / 360 ml whole milk or nut milk (low-fat or nonfat milk will make a thinner rice)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup 
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup / 45 g pistachios, chopped

To poach the figs: Bring the water, honey, and salt to a boil over medium-high heat in a small saucepan. Decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid begins to reduce and thicken to the consistency of a light syrup about 20 minutes. Ultimately, you should be left with about 1 3/4 cups liquid. Set the figs into the honey syrup. To poach the figs successfully, you want to make sure they're mostly covered in liquid, so if you need to switch to a smaller saucepan, now is the time. Simmer over medium0low heat until tender, 8 to 10 minutes, gently turning them and scooting them around so each side is poached evenly. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the figs to a plate to cool slightly. Once cool enough to touch, carefully slice off the stems and cut the figs in half. 

To make the rice: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine the cooked rice, milk, maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt and cook, uncovered, until the mixture begins to thicken, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking. Note that this should be a looser, almost milky dish: the rice won't soak up all of the liquid, and it will continue to thicken off the heat. Remove from the heat and let sit for a few minutes to cool ever so slightly and firm up a bit.

To serve: Divide the rice between 4 bowls. Top with the poached figs and the pistachios. I like to spoon a bit of the syrupy poaching liquid over the top of each bowl, too. If you have leftover rice, reheat in the morning, adding a dash more milk. 

Notes from Tara:

  • As said before, I used cooked barley instead of rice. I changed the title to reflect the photographs, but the recipe remains as written in the book.
  • I skipped the maple in my barley and used the same honey I'd used for the figs, since it was already out. Some hemp hearts and bee pollen were added to the pistachios.
  • I have a weakness for roasted figs. After poaching and splitting, to get some direct, dry heat on these pretties, I introduced them to a hot broiler for a few minutes — just enough to curl their edges and create a slightly caramelized crust.
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