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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Bananas, Bananas, Bananas
















"Slightly Used Bananas"


The manager of the little IGA store in our community back in the 50s and 60s always marked down overripe bananas with the sign, "slightly used bananas." That silly term stuck in my childish mind and I still find myself using it for the brown speckled fruits like these in the picture.

As you can tell, I find these hard to resist! However, it is hard in 2011 to get this much fresh fruit of any kind for $1.07, the price of this particular pile of bananas. So what else will I do with them? Many will disappear as casual snacks for anyone walking by, along with slices on breakfast cereal. Then there are so many other possibilities--smoothies, topping for cereal at breakfast, baking...but probably not any banana bread. I'm not a big fan of those kinds of breads and don't have any reason to bake them for taking anywhere. No banana bread but here are some other ideas for your next mass purchase of bananas:

Step One:

I made a couple of banana cakes, a lighter version of banana bread and a simple but satisfying dessert from the "archives" of Laack family recipes.

A few changes: I substituted plain yogurt for "sour milk" in the original recipe* and reduced the sugar slightly. In addition, Great Grandma Laack made this with a milk chocolate-y frosting, but I long ago changed the preferred topping to a brown sugar caramel icing that really enhances the banana flavor.

*If you want to go with "sour milk," just put a teaspoon of vinegar in the measuring cup and add milk to the quarter cup line and let the mixture sit for a couple of minutes before adding.
















Great Grandma Laack's Banana Cake

3/4 c butter, softened
1 1/4 c sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
1 c mashed bananas
1/4 c plain yogurt
1 3/4 c flour
1 t soda

1. Cream the butter well; add the sugar and continue beating until mixture is very creamy.

2. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. When smooth and creamy, mix in the bananas and sour milk or yogurt. Continue to mix until evenly blended.

3. Sift together the flour and soda and gradually add to the creamed mixture. Continue mixing for about 1 minute with an electric mixer or until the batter is smooth and very evenly mixed.

4. Turn the batter into a well-oiled and floured 9 X 13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool and frost. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts if desired. (If using a 10 inch disposable pan, as in the photo below, reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and expect to add 5 minutes or so to the baking time.

Caramel Frosting 

Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 T butter
  • 3 T milk
  • 1/2 c packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 c confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions
  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, and mix in the milk and brown sugar. Boil vigorously for 1 minute.
  2. Remove from heat, and cool slightly. Beat in the vanilla and then gradually add the powdered sugar, beating after each addition. If necessary, add a few drops of milk or water for best spreading consistency. (This spreads most easily when it is still warm)
  3. VARIATION: Substitute strong coffee for half the milk.


Some general banana baking hints:

A cup of mashed bananas is about three medium or two large bananas. If your bananas don't quite make it to one cup, add a little milk (or yogurt if part of the recipe) to bring it up to one cup. If you have just a little more than a cup--say up to even a couple of tablespoons--you can probably proceed with the recipe with no adjustments, or you could add perhaps a tablespoon of extra flour. (FRUGAL alert here--DON'T throw out any extra banana puree if your bananas don't exactly come out to an even cup measure! If you don't want to just have this little bit of healthy snack, pop it into an ice cube tray or a small plastic bag and use it as an "ice cube" for a smoothie.)

Almost all banana breads, cakes and cookies have been developed using very ripe bananas--after all, when do we usually think of these recipes? When the bananas are sitting on the counter turning mushy and brown! If your bananas are on the green side, however, you can use them but will need to be very sure to mash them thoroughly so that they mix in well.

As for mashing--I find it easiest to just use a measuring cup that is larger than the amount called for. I put chunks of the banana into the cup and then use an ordinary table fork to mash the banana down to a smooth mass. No extra dishes and you can quickly tell if you have enough banana for your recipe. And, unless the bananas are still very firm, a fork is just right for the job.

Step 2--The Freezer

Call it banana triage. Those in the best condition will be peeled, cut in half if too large, and then turned into banana-sicles. I just insert a wood craft stick (okay, popsicle stick, but that is a brand name I'm supposed to avoid!) into each and freeze them on a cookie sheet. When solidly frozen, they too will be put into a heavy freezer bag and stored for snacks. If you want to up the ante, you could roll them in chocolate milk powder (like Nestles Quick) or even coat them with a little peanut butter before freezing (or do both? I haven't ever tried that but it sounds like it could work.)


Some of the bananas may have spots but have firmer chunks between the spots. These can be cut into approximately one inch chunks and frozen on a cookie sheet. When these are solidly frozen, put into a freezer bag and have them ready to use in smoothies. Just pop a few chunks into the blender as you would ice cubes.

And finally, the softest bananas and/or those with the most spots get mashed to a puree, and are frozen in one cup portions in individual plastic bags--you can use just the lightest sandwich bags for each of these and just put them all in a larger freezer bag. Most banana breads, cakes, etc., use a cup of bananas at a time, so these pre-measured packs are great convenience foods. Just thaw in the refrigerator--or, if you are like me and think of the bananas at the last minute, thawed on the defrost setting in the microwave.

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