Banana Cookies

Baking is by far the best way to use overripe bananas, especially because they mash so well. I always use them to make my tried and true banana bread, but this time I wanted something different, and I thought of banana cookies. I’d never heard of them before, but I was sure that’s what I wanted to make. Then I found a great recipe here. The writer says the recipe came from her grandmother and is more than 70 years old. Here is her recipe, slightly tweaked based on my baking this morning.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 cup mashed bananas (about 2 1/2 bananas)
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup pecans, finely chopped (walnuts and chocolate chips are fine alternatives), plus extra whole pecans for topping

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.

In a bowl, mix the mashed bananas and baking soda. Let sit for 2 minutes. The baking soda will react with the acid in the bananas which in turn will give the cookies their lift and rise.

Mix the banana mixture into the butter mixture. Mix together the flour, salt, and spices and sift into the butter and banana mixture and mix until just combined.

Fold into the batter the pecans or chocolate chips if using. Drop in dollops onto parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Try to make the dollops as evenly round as possible. Press a pecan piece into the top of each one.

Bake for 11 minutes or until nicely golden brown. Let cool on wire racks.

Makes about 30 cookies.

World’s Easiest Strawberry Milkshake

This is a delicious, super-easy milkshake that’s also a great way to use up any extra milk and strawberries. Even if the fruit is already a little soft, it’s perfect in this recipe. With agave syrup, it’s a great snack for those on a low-GI diet, though you can also use sugar or honey in its place.

Adjust the quantities to your liking, but here’s what worked for me when I made the recipe last night:

250ml skim milk
14 medium strawberries, hulled and washed
Agave syrup, to taste

Put all ingredients in blender and process until mostly smooth. Taste and adjust sweetener as desired.

Simple Vegetable Curry

This thick curry is a great way to use up any leftover vegetables. I had a bunch of cut vegetables leftover from a weekend cookout, and I was able to use them all. I found the recipe on one of my favorite food sites, LoveFoodHateWaste.

I recommend scaling the recipe based on how many vegetables you have to use. Serve it over rice, and bon appetit.

675g leftover vegetables of any type (I used zucchini/courgettes, eggplant/aubergines, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and even celery. Other ideas include potatoes or sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, baby corn, cauliflower, and green beans.)
2 tablespoons canola/rapeseed oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped (yes, you do want to use this many)
100g block creamed coconut*, diluted in 200ml of warm water
4 Tbsp. red curry paste, such as Madras or Masaman
14 oz./400g can chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 tsp. salt
Cilantro (coriander sprigs) to garnish, if available (don’t worry if you don’t have any on hand)

If using potatoes, boil them in salted water for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside. Chop them and all the vegetables in big chunks and set them aside.

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and garlic, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a large splash of the coconut “water” and curry paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook until mixture resembles a very thick paste.

Add the vegetables, salt, and the remaining coconut water. Bring to the boil, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove the lid and cook until the liquid is evaporated and the vegetables are tender. Ganish with cilantro, if you have it, and serve atop basmati rice.

*I was new to creamed coconut when I began this recipe, but I found it easy to use and with a fresher coconut flavor than coconut milk. Here is a great explanation of coconut ingredients.

Peachy Keen Lentil Salad

I know — this is yet another salad recipe, but it’s the summer and I just want cool, simple dinners these days. I got this recipe from the back of an artsy greeting card with a huge peach on the front in Atlanta about 10 years ago. I put it in my recipe book and never got around to making it until last night. The result was so delicious that it was another case of, “Why on earth did I wait so long?”

Everything works together really well here — the peaches freshen up the lentils, the balsamic brings out the flavor of the fruit, the basil works well with the feta. This is a great salad to serve for lunch, maybe with crispy crackers. On its own, it makes a wonderful meal for vegetarians and those on low-GI and Weight Watchers plans — especially if you can find fat-free feta.

One more thing — this is a great way to use up leftover feta you may have in the fridge. Just adjust the proportions as needed.

Serves 4

1 cup green or Puy lentils*
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup crumbled feta (fat-free if possible)
2 peaches, cubed
2 basil sprigs, chopped
Dash of lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Boil a pot of water and add the lentils. Cook about 10 minutes or until the lentils are al dente. Drain and set aside.

When the lentils have cooled, combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl. And add the lentils and mix gently to combine.

*French Puy lentils and green lentils retain their shape when cooked, so they’re good to use in recipes like this one. Click here for a list of different kinds of lentils.

Santa Fe Chicken Salad

This southwestern chicken salad won my cook-off at home last night. It looks and tastes like a main-dish salad at a restaurant — big, delicious, with bite-size pieces and plenty of crunch. The recipe calls for cooked chicken, which makes this a great way to use up leftovers. If you don’t have leftovers to use, I recommend placing some chicken pieces in boiling water until cooked through, then chopping or shredding it as desired.

Serves 4-5 as main dish

6 cups Romaine lettuce, torn in pieces
4 oz. corn tortilla chips, crushed by hand, with a few whole chips saved for garnish
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. chili sauce (use a thick opaque one — I like Nando’s Hot Peri-Peri Sauce)
1 tsp. hot pepper sauce, like Tabasco
2 cups chopped or shredded chicken meat (from roughly 4 chicken breast halves)
5 green onions, chopped
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed and rained
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 avocado, peeled and sliced into thin wedges, then halved
2 tomatoes, cut into think wedges, then halved

Line plates or pasta bowls with lettuce, then top with chips. In small bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, chili sauce and hot pepper sauce. Pour into larger mixing bowl and combine with the rest of the ingredients, tossing to make sure everything is coated. Place the mixture on top of the chips and Romaine, then garnish with a few whole chips.

For best presentation, pull out some tomato or avocado pieces from the mixture and lay them on top.

Three-Pepper Stir-Fry

I found this recipe when I was looking for ways to use up a bunch of bell peppers that were starting to go soft in the fridge. It was perfect and very easy. Don’t be put off by the strange inclusion of couscous in what is otherwise an Asian dish. Trust me, it works!

Makes 3-4 servings

250g (about 9 oz.) dried couscous
1 14.5-oz. can chicken broth
1 Tbsp. grated ginger root
3 cloves garlic, minced
4-5 bell peppers of different colors, julienned and strips cut in half
1 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
Soy sauce to taste

Cook couscous by placing it in a pot with an equal amount of water. Bring to a boil, and as soon as the water starts to boil, turn the heat off and let it sit.

Heat half of the chicken broth to boiling in wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ginger and garlic; cook 1 minute. Add bell peppers and remaining broth. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until bell peppers are tender. Stir in hoisin sauce. Mix in cooked couscous.

Melissa’s Strawberry Smoothie

Strawberries can go soft quickly, even if stored properly in their containers in the fridge. I have found the solution: Freeze them, and use them later in a delicious recipe like this.

I devised this smoothie to use frozen strawberries almost straight from the freezer. You’ll never have to waste strawberries again.

14 frozen strawberries
1 banana
6 oz. plain yogurt
1 Tbsp. honey

Let the strawberries thaw slightly, then blend it all together. Serves 1-2.

Leftovers: Cherry Tomatoes

Here’s a way to make use of cherry tomatoes that are going a little soft in the fridge: Boil them down in their own juice to make a tomato sauce that you can use later. I keep a plastic bag in the freezer and add this sauce to the bag whenever I make some. After a couple of months, I have enough in the plastic bag to use for a meal.

All you do is cut the tomatoes in quarters, then throw them in a pot. You don’t need to add water, cooking oil, or anything else. Put it over medium heat until it starts to simmer, then keep it at a simmer until it boils down to the desired thickness (I usually let it get fairly thick). Let cool, then freeze.

The skins of the tomatoes can be a little annoying, so peel them before boiling them, if you like. I usually leave them in and only remove them later if I decide I can’t put up with them.

Fudgy Brownie Cups

This is a cute little dessert that takes no time to make and tastes delicious hot out of the oven. And here’s a tip to remember: It’s also a great way to use up leftover puff pastry you might have from another recipe.

500g (18 oz.) refrigerated or frozen puff pastry (thawed if frozen)
100g (4 oz.) dark chocolate
115g (1/4 cup or 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
170g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 205C/400F. On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a rectangle about 15×12 inches. Cut into 3×3-inch squares (you should end up with about 20 squares). Press them into the cups of a regular-size muffin tin.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate and butter together, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat when mixture is melted and stir in the sugar. Stir in the eggs and vanilla, then the flour. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of chocolate mixture into each pastry square. (The more filling you spoon in, the better — just don’t let it overflow the pastry.)

Bake for 15 minutes, or until pastry is golden. Remove from muffin tin immediately and eat right away — or just let cool on wire racks. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

Asparagus Risotto

This is an easy and tasty risotto dish that’s also a great way to use up fresh asparagus, if you have some left over — just scale the recipe accordingly.

1 kilo (2 lbs, 3 oz.) asparagus
300g (10.5 oz.) risotto rice
50g (3 Tbsp.) butter
1 medium red onion, chopped
60 ml (1/4 cup) white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese to taste

Cut off the extreme tips of the asparagus (about 3 cm or 1 inch) and set aside. Chop the remaining sections into 1-inch pieces and cook in 1 liter (4 cups) boiling, salted water. When tender, remove the stalks from the cooking liquid with a slotted spoon and reserve the cooking liquid. Puree the tender stalks until mushy, then stir the puree back into the cooking water to make an asparagus stock.

Melt the butter in a large stockpot and cook the onion until soft. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until it absorbs the flavor of the butter. Add the wine and let evaporate, then ladle on a bit of the stock. When the rice has absorbed the liquid, add another ladle of stock. Continue in this way until the rice is cooked, stirring constantly.

If your stock runs out before the rice is tender, you’ll need to have some other vegetable stock ready. Just make sure whatever liquid you add is simmering when you ladle it into the rice.

Add the asparagus tips about 15 minutes after the first addition of stock. Test the rice toward the end of cooking and turn off the heat when the rice is al dente. Check the seasonings, add desired cheese, and serve immediately.