Loaves and Dishes

Coconut Chocolate Chip Banana Loaf

I have two current obsessions: making loaves of quick bread and buying unique or pretty dishes to add to my collection.

One obsession makes my family happy. The other gets me into trouble because we’re running out of cupboard space to put all of the dishes.

Dishes

A few favourite dishes: tea cup from Greece; square plate from Mexico; beloved platter from Grandma; lovely new blue bowl and a saucer bought on honeymoon in Florence.

There are just so many reasons to make a loaf of quick bread: it’s a great way to use up ripe bananas; it packs up nicely as a school or work snack; they make great gifts; and you can mix up all the ingredients and pop it into the oven in five to ten minutes. Although I think my favourite reason is the way the house smells when you’re baking a loaf—it takes you right back to childhood.

With any luck, the loaves will keep my husband in a sugar coma long enough that he’ll stay out of our overflowing cupboards and won’t discover all the new dishes I’ve bought recently. Although I think it’s too late—my friend Nancy was commenting on the weekend about all the new dishes she’s noticed in my recent posts.

Okay then, I guess my best bet is to win him over with the cost savings of the Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf. The girls absolutely love the version that you get at Starbucks—but a family visit to Starbucks these days comes close to setting you back as much as your monthly iPhone bill if everyone splurges on a drink and a snack. That was the incentive for coming up with this version of Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf, as I’d much rather spend my spare money on dishes save money to pay down our mortgage.

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf

If that doesn’t work, there’s always Coconut Chocolate Chip Banana Bread. My oldest daughter started requesting a new version of banana bread . . . she was getting sick of my Butterscotch Chip Wholewheat Banana Bread. That lead to thinking that I needed to try the coconut oil that I’ve been reading about all over the blogsphere in my recipe. Have you tried baking with it yet?

If not, you really should. I reckon that it’s better for you than broccoli—and it tastes a lot better too. According to Dr. Oz, it can help our bodies resist illness-causing viruses and bacteria; boost thyroid function helping to increase metabolism, energy and endurance; increase digestion and help to absorb fat-soluble vitamins; and help fight off yeast, fungus and candida.

I’m meeting my friend Eva tomorrow after work to go shopping at Tap Phong Trading Company in Chinatown. It’s a great place to buy dishes and cooking utensils at great prices. Do you think I need to bake another loaf this week?

Coconut Chocolate Chip Banana Loaf

Coconut Chocolate Chip Banana Loaf

  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted (measured solid)
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350° and grease 9 ½“ x 5 ½“ loaf pan
  • Mix dry ingredients (flours, salt, sugar and baking soda) in small bowl and set aside.
  • Mix wet ingredients (bananas, egg, melted coconut oil and vanilla) in large bowl. Add in the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips and shredded coconut until incorporated.
  • Pour batter into greased loaf pan.
  • Bake for 45 – 55 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup oil
  • ½ cup sour cream 
  • ½ cup milk (I use 1%)
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup poppy seeds

Drizzle

  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp milk

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350° and grease 9 ½“ x 5 ½“ loaf pan
  • Mix dry ingredients (flour, salt, sugar, baking soda and baking powder) in small bowl and set aside.
  • Mix wet ingredients (oil, sour cream, milk, eggs, lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla) in large bowl. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well. Add poppy seeds.
  • Pour batter into greased loaf pan.
  • Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  • Allow loaf to cool completely. Mix drizzle ingredients in small bowl and spoon glaze over bread.
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Dinner With A Couple Of Little Rats And Roosters

Dumplings and Ribs

Dumplings, Sweet and Sour Sauce, Soy Dipping Sauce and Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the ponytails were fired up about Chinese New Year. My oldest daughter was working on writing a short play about it and was talking non-stop about how great it was to be a rooster (her Chinese zodiac animal). Meanwhile my youngest daughter was counting down the days until the Chinese New Year parade at school.

Don’t you love the way children find such joy in learning new things?

We really want to encourage and embrace this interest the girls have in different cultures and traditions. So, I bought them each a children’s book about Chinese New Year on my way home from a business trip and decided that we would celebrate it too.

Soon after that I asked my colleague Amanda if she could recommend a few authentic Chinese dishes. But she didn’t just provide me with some ideas—she surprized me with a very large carrying case full of all the essentials for a Chinese New Year celebration: decorations, candies, sauces and noodles. I was blown away by her generosity!

Treats

Some of the treats from Amanda: crunchy peanuts, candies and Korean crackers.

However, we did encounter a set-back. At the last minute, my husband was asked to go to an important work event on Feb. 1oth. But after Amanda’s kind gesture, there was no turning back. Close friends Carolyn and Glen agreed to join the girls and I for our celebration. With two young daughters the same age as the ponytails, it would mean an evening with two little rats and two roosters (according to their Chinese zodiac animals of course)!

Armed with a great dumpling recipe from Amanda, I set out to research some other ideas for our feast. Two bloggers came to mind immediately: Norma from Garden to Wok and Sissi from With a Glass. Norma teaches cooking classes and has written two cookbooks: My Students’ Favorite Chinese Recipes and Wokking Your Way to Lowfat Cooking. An avid gardener, she also keeps her loyal readers up-to-date on the adventures in her garden with regular Harvest Monday posts. Based in Switzerland, Sissi has a flair for creating innovative recipes that are inspired by her love of a diverse range of cuisines, particularly Asian and Hungarian cuisines. I met Sissi in the early days of blogging and I’ve been a fan of her site ever since.

When I saw Sissi’s Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce I knew that I had to make them. They looked sticky and fall-off-the-bone good. Well, I can tell you that they didn’t disappoint. Best. Ribs. Ever. OMG, you must make these ribs. The flavour combination of the dark soy sauce, star anise and cinnamon is really incredible. However, you MUST use the dark soy sauce (which I had never used before) because the regular soy sauce simply will not achieve the same result. The dark soy sauce is thicker and more intense in flavour than regular soy sauce.

Sissi’s Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce

I also returned to Norma’s Shrimp Stir-fry recipe that I’ve made a number of times with great success, but I used snow peas in place of the asparagus this time. This dish went really well with the Chinese noodles that Amanda gave us. Best of all, it’s a low-fat recipe!

Shrimp and Snow Peas

Norma’s Shrimp and Snow Peas Stir-fry

I also found inspiration from the online version of one of my favourite magazines, House & Home. The lemon sauce for this chicken is nothing like the version that you get at a restaurant or with your favourite take-out. You’ve got to try this Lemon Chicken recipe—the flavour is just amazing.

Lemon Chicken

Almond cookies are a traditional way to end a Chinese New Year celebration and kids love them. The texture of these cookies was spot on with what I’ve had in restaurants—they had a bit of a crunch but still melted in your mouth. Next time I make them I’m going to play around with the recipe, as I prefer not to use shortening in my baking.

Almond Cookies

And what celebration would be complete without a live performance? Our two adorable roosters and rats entertained us with original songs such as: We Are the Roosters; Sweet Love and a rap song entitled Hurricane.

Two Rats Performing

Two cute “rats” ham it up.

Performance

Rockin it out with the rats and the roosters!

It was a night of great food, with great friends. In fact, we had so much fun that I think this just might become an annual celebration for us. Now I just need to find a way to repay Amanda’s generosity. Any suggestions?

Recipes from Our Chinese New Year Celebration

Sissi’s Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce

Norma’s Shrimp With Snow Peas Stir-Fry

Lemon Chicken from House & Home Magazine

Sissi’s Baked Wonton Crisps and Sweet and Sour Sauce from Chow.com

Almond Cookies from Canadian Living

Pork Dumplings

Adapted from Amanda’s recipe

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp white wine
  • 2 tbsp chopped chives
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 package of dumpling wrappers

Dipping Sauce

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

Mix all ingredients (except dumpling wrappers) well in a large bowl.

Place a level tablespoon of filling in the centre of each dumpling wrapper. Moisten edges with water. Fold in half and pinch together to create a pouch that seals in the mixture. Alternatively, you could use a dumpling or ravioli maker as I did that automatically seals each dumpling. I did need to double check each dumpling and pinch any spots where it wasn’t completely sealed by the ravioli maker. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.

Steam the dumplings for 10 to 12 minutes. (Use a pan/wok of boiling water and bamboo baskets for steaming.) Alternatively you can boil them in water for 5 to 6 minutes. They can also be fried afterwards (but I didn’t do this).

For the dipping sauce, mix the soy sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl. Serve with the dumplings.

Prep work

Thanks to Sissi’s suggestion, I used my ravioli maker to make the dumplings.

Tips/Notes:

  • I followed a tip from Sissi and used a ravioli maker to make the dumplings. It worked really well. You could also use a dumpling sealer, but I didn’t have one.
  • I used 2 kg of pork ribs, so I tripled Sissi’s recipe for Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce. Be sure to cut the ribs into individual portions as this is key to the success of the recipe. However, I didn’t cut the ribs in half vertically as Sissi did and I was still happy with the results.

Can Cupcakes Mend A Broken Heart?

Oreo Cookie Cupcakes
It was a gift from my mom for my 20th birthday and I knew we were destined to be the best of friends. It was stylish, yet practical. Not too big, not too small. Just the right size to hold a summer’s worth of shorts and tees . . . and a souvenir or two from my travels. It was the cadillac of backpacks. And it was all mine.

Old backpack

And while it has definitely seen better days—it’s faded and well-worn at the seams—it remains a treasured possession. A dear old friend.

Recently my old backpack set off on a new adventure, with a brave new explorer. My trusted old friend went to camp with my seven-year old ponytail. It was her first weekend away.

Getting ready for camp

I was quite excited about my daughter’s milestone adventure with her Girl Guide Brownie Troop until we started loading up my old backpack with her weekend essentials. All of a sudden I was overwhelmed with emotion. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was setting sail on one of life’s great adventures myself? Okay, so this time it’s camp. Next time it’ll be Europe, right? Where’s the pause button?

There were definitely tears. But not from me. (Okay, I did come very close.) The tears were from a younger sister who was utterly devastated to be excluded from this grand adventure. I needed a distraction.

A helping hand

So I pulled out my baking pans and we set to work. Within no time, the cloud of flour in the air and cookie crumbs on the counter, floor and all over my ponytail’s little face worked their magic. The injustice of being younger was soon forgotten.

The thrill of an oreo in every cupcake was the perfect diversion.

An oreo in each cupcake

And something to look forward to once they were baked and decorated.

A peek inside

Oreo cupcakes + dinner with a best friend from kindergarten = a very happy little ponytail.

As for mom? Well, she enjoyed the cupcakes too . . .  but she has realized that she needs to cherish every last minute with each of her two little ponytails. Even those times when she wants to pull out her hair from all the craziness and the tantrums . . . because one day that backpack will be headed for Europe. What do you think the odds are that the girls will take me too?

SONY DSC

Oreo Cupcakes

Cupcake recipe from Bakerella

Cupcakes:

  • 1- 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup natural unsweetened cocoa
  • 1- 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 22-24 Oreos

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Line tray with baking cups.
  • Place one whole cookie in each cup.
  • Mix the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl using a wire whisk.
  • Add the eggs, oil, vanilla and milk and mix well until thoroughly combined. Add the hot water and mix until combined.
  • Using an ice cream scoop transfer the batter into each baking cup so it’s about three quarters full. Makes 22- 24 cupcakes. (Yield was 23 for me)
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes.

Oreo Buttercream Icing

(Adapted from my Peanut Butter Buttercream Icing Recipe)

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 3- 1/2 to 4 cups icing sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 6 tbsp crushed cookie crumbs (approx 5- 6 oreos)

In a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about a minute. Add 2½ cups icing sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully incorporated, about 30 seconds; scrape bowl, add vanilla and milk, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 20 seconds. Add remaining one to one-and-half cups of icing sugar and beat until incorporated.  Then increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl once or twice. Add cookie crumbs and beat on medium-high for one minute until well incorporated.

Frost the cupcakes when cool.

Decorate with mini oreo cookies (optional)