Banana Walnut Bread

I am a sucker for traditions, and banana bread is one of those desserts I look forward to making when I feel the need to relish in the goodness of basic quick baking. It's the perfect time because I seem to have enough bananas in the freezer that always seem to go ripe overnight. Serve with cold or a hot cup of Barry's Tea. Also, it's perfect to pack-up for an easy take along snack or midday treat.

Tip: Ripe bananas (black) are the key to success. Save ripe bananas still in their skins and freeze in a plastic freezer bag until you have enough to make a full recipe. 

The crumble topping is optional; and for a lower fat Banana Bread recipe, replace butter in part or all with applesauce. 

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Banana Walnut Bread

Recipe Chef George Hirsch | Makes 1 loaf or 10-12 muffins

For the Crumb Topping:

1/3 cup lite brown sugar

2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 Tablespoons walnuts or pecans, chopped

1 Tablespoon sweet butter

In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nuts. Blend butter in with a fork until mixture is crumb like.

For the Loaf Mix:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups about 3-4 large very ripe bananas, mashed

1/2 cup pure cane granulated sugar

3 Tablespoons honey

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest

1/2 cup sweet butter, melted; Or replace with part/ all applesauce

Lightly grease loaf pan.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat together bananas, sugar, honey, egg, cinnamon, vanilla, nuts, and melted butter. Fold in by hand with a spatula the banana mixture into the flour mixture until just moistened. 

Place batter into loaf pan; and if using the optional crumb topping sprinkle on top of batter. 

Bake for 45-50 minutes. Test with a toothpick inserted into center of loaf. Done when it comes out clean.

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Jubilee Time

Walk fast but don't run, cherry season in North America has finally arrived! This very short season, which only lasts about one month, makes way for endless sweet recipes. Simply, enjoy cherries fresh-out of the bag; just soak cherries in ice-water for five minutes for a refreshing chilly snack. Or, incorporate fresh cherries into shortcakes, clafouti, or savory sauces for duck, chicken and pork.

Today's recipe is a cherry show stopper. You can put on quite a live demonstration for your guests by whipping up this a la Escoffier classic, Cherries Jubilee. Auguste Escoffier prepared Cherries Jubilee for Queen Victoria's Jubilee celebration in the late 1800's. 

Here are a few good-to-know tips on cherries:

- Removing pits is easily accomplished with OXO's new Cherry + Olive Pitter - a Good Stuff pick.

- Cherries are a very delicate fruit and do not ripen further once picked.

- Choose cherries with stems still attached, this helps them maintain their freshness.  Cherries with plump, bendable stems have recently been picked and are at the peak of freshness.

- Select cherries with firm, smooth, unblemished skin, and buy only as many as you plan to eat within a couple days.

- For best results, store refrigerated in a plastic bag with holes in it, and wash cherries only when you're ready to use them.

Cherries Jubilee
Recipe by Chef George Hirsch | Makes four servings 
Adapted from Gather 'round the Grill Cookbook, 1995

2 Tablespoons sweet butter
1/2 cup Turbinado (suger in the raw) or pure cane granulated sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
Juice from half a lemon
2 cups Bing or other dark, sweet cherries, rinsed and pitted
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground allspice
1/4 cup Kirschwasser
2 Tablespoons Grand Marnier or Cointreau
2 cups vanilla ice cream

In four small bowls, pre portion ice cream and return bowls to freezer prior to preparing cherries and until ready to serve.

Pre heat a sauce pan over a low temperature. Add butter and sugar and stir until melted. Continue cooking over a low flame until sugar begins to turn a light brown color. Stir in the orange and lemon juice; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until slightly thickened. Stir in the cherries, cinnamon, allspice and orange zest, return to a boil, then reduce heat, and add the Kirschwasser (cherry brandy). Pour in the Grand Marnier, and ignite with an igniter. Gently shake the pan and stir with a large spoon until the blue flame has extinguished itself. Receive applause from your guests.

Spoon the cherries and the sauce over the bowls of ice cream and serve immediately. 

CAUTION:

I am reminded of an episode from the TV show Frasier; when Frasier and Niles open an upscale French restaurant called "Les Frères Heureux", meaning "The Happy Brothers". The uber pretentious budinski brothers can't keep their hands out of the kitchen. When opening night arrives, everything that can go wrong, does - the waiters go to the emergency room and the chef quits, with Niles taking over the chef position and Daphne helping him. Martin becomes a bartender and Roz becomes a waitress. Frasier and Niles, throughout the night keep enhancing the amount of brandy in the batch of cherries jubliee. Well, you can imagine how this turns out; as Roz the ever faithful producer bails Fraiser out of yet another jam. She assists to serve the cherries jubilee in the dining room. As she ignites the cherries jubilee in the dining room it explodes with cherries embedded into the restaurant ceiling.

Lesson here - First, don't open a restaurant unless you know what you are doing. And, VERY importantly, the flames can get quite high when flambeing, so give your full attention to anything flammable above and around the area where you ignite the cherries. Lastly, NEVER add liquor straight from the bottle into the pan directly over a fire.