Banana Mini-Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Nutmeg Frosting

Ok, let’s just say that you made it this far in December without eating enough sweet things.  Or that you have another holiday party to go to and don’t want to take fudge, star-shaped cookies, or gingerbread.  Or, more likely in my house, you have some bananas that are past the point that anyone will eat them plain and half a block of cream cheese and don’t want to waste them.  Whatever the case, these mini-cupcakes are delicious, banana loaded, cute, and make a great four-bite treat with a cup of hot tea.  This recipe makes nearly 4 dozen so you’ll have plenty to share.

Banana Mini-Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Nutmeg Frosting

for cakes:

  • 4 Tbs butter
  • scant 1/2 cup white sugar
  • scant 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 large ripe bananas
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
  • 1 1/4 cup flour (generally I promote using whole wheat but not here – use unbleached white)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 small pinch salt
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg

for frosting:

  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line mini cupcake pans with mini cupcake papers.  To make cakes, cream together the butter and sugars.  Add in the eggs, one at a time, and cream again.  Mash the bananas and add them to the butter.  Mix the dry ingredients together in another bowl then add to the butter in two parts, alternating with the yogurt.  Fill cupcake papers about 3/4 full then bake until they are starting to brown lightly and a knife comes out clean (about 10 minutes, but you will have to check.)  Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack.  To make frosting, cream together all the ingredients then spread over cooled cakes.  Eat.  Share.  Enjoy.

The Goose Is Getting Fat

When I was a little girl going to Columbine Elementary School here in Boulder we sang lots of Christmas songs in music class at this time of year.  Nothing overtly laden with references to Jesus, although for anyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas all the songs seem laden with incomprehensible other-worldliness.  The other world, in this case, being the world to which I didn’t belong: sleigh rides in open snow, roasting chestnuts (or for that matter open fires), and my favorite of all – ha’pennies and fat geese.  In my mind Christmas songs represented things that had nothing to do with my real life and were peopled by rosy-cheeked blond folk wearing many layers of long skirts and strange bonnets and looked like a cross between how I imagined Laura Ingalls Wilder looked and the illustrations in old Mother Goose books.  In real life the Christmas celebrations we were invited to attend were populated by black-haired Chicanos who ate tamales and lesbians who wore comfortable pants suits and made great cookies.  The whole ethos of Christmas was baffling and I always thought it was because I was Jewish and just didn’t get it.  Now as an adult I realize that the whole Olde English/19th Century New England/Really Happy People image I created in my mind based on books (think Little Women) and songs is as foreign to most people who celebrate the holiday as it was to me.  In the same way that movies and books have led a whole generation of women to long for great jobs working as editors in London with a cadre of amazingly funny and loyal best beautiful friends and romances with men who are always well-spoken, nicely coiffed and dressed, and look like a cross between Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, the old folky Christmas songs and movies still lead many people to be dissatisfied with their family Christmas celebrations if they don’t include woods, jingling bells, hats with pennies, ice skating in Manhattan, lots of cheerful (yet sober!) white people, perfectly wrapped presents, and no dissention.  Which, of course, leads to a serious cognitive disconnect when celebrations are full of, well, the things that happen when real people celebrate holidays.  Heartburn, arguing, stodgy and/or foul-tasting and/or vegan and/or fattening food (pick your poison), too much beer, not enough fresh air, too many loud children, not enough children – if you’ve ever celebrated anything with family then you know.  So, fatted goose or tamales, cheerful carol singers or drunken uncles, if you celebrate Christmas I hope it is just as it should be for you.  And if you don’t like the reality, rent Love Actually and opt out of reality for a couple hours.  I’ll be here, not celebrating Christmas and humming my grandmother’s old ditty for this time of year, “Oy, To Be A Goy at Christmas.”

Hearty Pot Roast Soup

If you want to make a dish that is soupier than pot roast and has more veggies than brisket and is heartier than plain soup and uses a small amount of very flavorful beef and is great with garlic bread or any other side and is a one pot dinner here is a recipe for you.  This is delicious, easy to make, can be thrown in the Crock-pot in the morning or cooked on the stove top starting in the afternoon and be ready for a warming and hearty dinner in the evening.  The pieces are large, this isn’t a delicate dish.  You will need to serve with a fork and knife as well as the spoon.  It is good the first night and good as a leftover.  But don’t freeze it, the potatoes will get a horrid texture.  Enjoy.

Hearty Pot Roast Soup  (the amount of veggies are a guideline, add more of what you like and leave out what you don’t like)

  • 1 lb pot roast or brisket meat
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 stalks celery
  •  4-5 small or 2 large potatoes
  • 1 zucchini
  • (1 cup chunked winter squash)
  • (1 cup frozen corn)
  • (1 cup frozen peas)
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • 1 large can small diced tomatoes
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the raw meat into 2-bite size chunks.  Put in a large pot or your Crock-pot.  Peel, quarter, and slice the onion.  Peel (or scrub) the carrots and chop into bite-sized chunks.  Ditto with the celery and the zucchini.  Peel the potatoes and cut into 2-bite size chunks.  Peel the garlic and cut each clove into 3-4 chunks.  Put all the veggies (except the peas) into the pot with the meat.  Add the canned tomatoes and a can full of water.  Grind a good amount of fresh black pepper into the pot.  Stir it well then cook.  In a Crock-pot cook on high for at least 6 hours.  In a pot on the stove it will take only 2-3 hours until the meat is tender enough.  15 minutes before eating stir in the peas and check the soup for salt.  Add salt and more pepper as needed.

Such Good Fried Things or Happy Channukah One and All

So, we are in the midst of celebrating Channukah, a holiday that marks two significant miracles.  The one that we focus on in modern times is the miracle of oil (a jar of pure oil meant to last one day instead lasted eight, leaving enough time for more to be made to light the holy menorah) but no less important is the miracle of military triumph (of the Maccabees over the Greeks – an amazing tale of zeal defeating strength.)  At various times and places throughout history the focus has been shone more on one or the other miracle.  Here in modern America where we are, for the most part, a peaceful and peace-loving people we focus on the miracle of the oil.  But this year in particular the story of military might is resonating with me, like this.  Had there not been the Maccabees, willing to fight and die to defeat the Greeks; had their inner flame not burned bright enough, there would not have been the miracle of the oil.  There would have been no need to resanctify the Holy Temple if there weren’t Jews who refused to douse their Jewish souls to accommodate the Greeks.  This year I wish for all of us, those who celebrate Jewish holidays and those who celebrate other holidays or none at all, that our inner flames are strong enough to allow miracles to happen.

Why do we eat potato latkes (pancakes) and sufgoniote (jelly doughnuts) on Channukah?  Because they are fried in oil, obviously, thereby marking the miracle of the oil.  So we eat fried things.  Also, as Channukah usually falls in the darkest coldest part of winter all that oily food keeps us warm and sleek as seal pups.  (And, for some, seriously dyspeptic.)  Here are a couple of variations on a theme for your Channukah fried-food table.  Here, too, are a couple important tips on making latkes.  Serve latkes with crisp green salad and lentil vegetable soup to absorb and mitigate some of that oily goodness.  Shine on, little flames.

On making latkes so the potatoes don’t turn funny colors and the texture is good:  The onion will keep the potatoes from oxidizing to the trick is to grate a piece of the onion first so the grater (either a handheld grater or the food processor blade) has onion juice on it and there is onion in the bowl.  Then grate some onion every few bits of potato and mix what’s in the bowl well to make sure the newer potato gets the benefit of the onion.  If you are using a food processor use the grating blade then remove the grated vegetables out of the bowl of the processor, replace the grating blade with the chopping blade and half chop the veggies.  Some long strings are ok but you need enough chopped up to bind the shreds together.  Also, the best potatoes for latkes are russet.  You can use others but you will need to add more flour to bind them. 

On frying perfect, crisp, not too oily, brown, beautiful latkes:  First of all, you need a good pan.  By this I mean a pan that has a flat bottom and is heavy enough to distribute heat evenly.  This does not mean an expensive pan, just a good one.  Second, choose your oil.  I always use either pure (not extra-virgin) olive oil or vegetable oil.  I hate the way canola tastes and smells, peanut has too much flavor of its own, corn is ok.  Butter will cook ok if it is clarified but adds a lot of its own flavor so I don’t like it for latkes.  Schmaltz (chicken fat) is ok but is very rich, hard to come by, and makes the meal meat (for those who keep kosher this means no dairy with the meal.)  Heat your oil until it is hot but not smoking.  This is important.  If it starts to smoke, turn the heat down.  If the latke doesn’t sizzle when you put it in the pan turn the heat up a little.  Having the oil too hot will smoke out your house and burn the edges of the latkes.  Having the oil too cold will allow the latkes to soak up too much oil and make them yucky.  I cook my latkes by about the quarter cup, made into a small ball in my palm then put in the oil and spread out (carefully) with my fingers to make a flattish round.  (You can use a spatula or spoon to do the flattening.)  Cook until one side is brown, moving in the pan to cook evenly if necessary.  Flip and cook the other side.  Make sure to remove any little bits that come off the latkes from the oil, they will start to burn and stick to your latkes, which makes them have unappealing little burned bits on them.  Once your latke “batter” is ready I recommend making a test latke.  Taste it and adjust seasonings as needed then cook the rest.  Latkes can be made a la minute (to order) or in advance and reheated in the oven.  They can be kept in the fridge or frozen with good results.  Cook on!

Potato and Smoked Cheddar Latkes

  • 5 large potatoes
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 4-5 oz smoked cheddar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • salt and black pepper
  • oil for frying

Peel the potatoes and put in water to keep from oxidizing.  Peel the onion and cut into eighths.  Using the grating blade of the food processor grate the potatoes and onions (see note above) then half chop them with the chopping blade.  Grate the cheese on a hand grater (trust me, it works better this way.)  Put the potato-onion mixture into a large bowl and mix in everything else.  Heat pan and oil and fry one sample latke, taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed.  Fry latkes (see note above.)  Eat, serve to friends, enjoy, stay warm all winter on the oil.

The Most Delicious Apple Latke/Fritter/Doughnuts

  • 4 large or 5 medium apples
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (you can use 1 cup white and 1/2 cup whole wheat)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • oil for frying (see note above – pure olive oil is fine here, too)
  • 1/2 cup sugar for tossing
  • 1 Tbs ground cinnamon for tossing

Put the flour, eggs, cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, and cardamom into a large bowl.  Peel and grate the apples (use a hand-held, old-fashioned cheese grater with large holes) into the bowl.  Mix everything together.  Using two tablespoons form loose quenelles (vaguely football shaped ovals) with the batter and carefully put in the hot oil (see note above about frying.)  Cook on one side until it is browned then turn over and cook the other side.  Remove cooked fritters to a sheet pan.  If you are serving them immediately, allow them to cool slightly then toss with the cinnamon and sugar, that you have mixed together in a large bowl.  If you are not serving them right away do not toss yet.  Store in the fridge until you want to serve them then heat for 7 minutes or so in a 350 degree oven.  Then toss in the cinnamon sugar.  If you have leftovers after you have tossed and served them (good luck with that!) you can store in a tightly closed container then retoss in cinnamon sugar before serving/eating again.  These are DELICIOUS!  You can use any kind of apple but the best are apples with a bit of a tang to them instead of ones that are purely sweet.  The more flavorful the apple, the more flavorful the fritters.