Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Kitchen Sink Banana Muffins...

It happened again this week. The greenish bananas I bought at the grocery store this weekend for our snacks and lunches were already brown and overripe by yesterday. This is a double-edged's a bummer to not have them for their intended purpose. But it also means that it's time to make something yummy out of them so I don't have to waste them by throwing away. Once again, Ina Garten came to my rescue. To me, that woman can do no wrong...every Barefoot Contessa recipe I've tried has been completely delicious. These muffins are no exception...they're over-the-top and filled with all sort of yummy goodness.

I tweaked the recipe a bit by adding cinnamon, subbing pecans for walnuts, and using a combo of white and brown sugar. I decided to call them Kitchen Sink Banana Muffins, because they're full of all kinds of yummy additions. They'll be great for a little after-dinner treat or a quick breakfast with a piece of fruit or lowfat yogurt. These muffins take about 15 minutes to whip up, then they bake for about 30 minutes. The hardest part is waiting for them to cool enough to eat them without burning your mouth -- they smell so good when they come out of the oven that it's hard to resist eating one right away!!

Kitchen Sink Banana Muffins
adapted from Barefoot Contessa's Banana Crunch Muffins

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 350. Place paper muffin liners in a 12-cup muffin tin. Add 1.5 cups flour, 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 2 tsp. cinnamon and 1/4 tsp. salt. Stir well to combine. Melt one stick of butter and add to the dry ingredients. Stir to combine.

Step 2:  Combine 1 large egg, 1/2 cup milk, 2 tsp. vanilla, and one mashed banana in a small mixing bowl. Add these wet ingredients to the butter-flour mixture and stir well to combine. Be careful not to overmix...a gentle hand will give you much lighter muffins. Lesson: Don't want muffins like hockey pucks? Be gentle with your muffins, and your muffins will return the favor!

Step 3:  Add the following ingredients to the muffin batter: 1 diced banana, 1/2 cup chopped pecans, 1/2 cup granola, and 1/2 cup shredded coconut. Carefully fold these ingredients into the batter until they're evenly incorporated.

Step 4:  Spoon the batter into the paper muffin liners. Sprinkle the top of half of the muffins with some of the granola, and sprinkle the other half with coconut and a bit of sugar. The original recipe says you can also sprinkle crushed banana chips on top of the muffins. 

Step 5:  Bake the muffins for 25-30 minutes, until they're golden brown. Remove from the pan and let them cool for at least 15 minutes before eating. These muffins come out so pretty and brown...crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside.

Best of all? These muffins taste every bit as good as they look! Each bite is a bit different. Sometimes you get a piece of the diced banana, sometimes a pecan or some coconut, and sometimes a bit of the crunchy granola. This is the best muffin I've tasted in ages, and so much cheaper than the muffins at my favorite bakery/coffee shop. I hope you'll give these a try this weekend -- they'd be perfect for a lazy Sunday brunch!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar-Worthy Thin Mint Mini Cheesecakes...

Other than cooking (and eating...), music and movies are two of my other loves! We've spent the last week getting caught up on all the movies nominated for Best Picture, and we're going to an Oscar-watching party with family tonight. I'm pulling for The King's Speech to win tonight, but most of the nominees this year are good. I'm taking two dishes to share tonight: Sweet and Spicy Glazed Ribs and my Oscar-Worthy Thin Mint Mini Cheesecakes. 

I'll share the rib recipe in here soon, but I wanted to post about these yummy, minty cheesecakes today!! At my house, February means Girl Scout cookie time...Samoas are our favorite, but I always buy at least one box of Thin Mints. One of my favorite flavor combinations is chocolate and mint. If I had to nominate a contender in the Best Easy-to-Make Dessert category, this would be it. A Thin Mint cookie base, a no-bake cheesecake center with a hint of mint, and a simple chocolate-mint ganache on top. These mini cheesecakes are frozen instead of baked to enhance the cooling mint sensation. I'm not the only one who prefers my Thin Mints frozen, am I? 

Thin Mint Mini Cheesecakes
Cheesecake filling adapted from Kraft Kitchens

Step 1:  Place paper cupcake liners into a 12-cup cupcake pan. Place one Thin Mint cookie into the bottom of each cup.  Set aside while you make the filling.

Step 2:  Make the cheesecake filling. Combine one 8-ounce and one 3 ounce package of softened cream cheese and 1 cup sugar. Beat on high for 2-3 minutes, until fluffy. It's very important that the cream cheese be completely softened to avoid any lumps in your filling.  Add 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract, 4 drops green food coloring, and an 8-ounce container of Cool Whip. Beat on med-high for 1-2 minutes, until well combined.

Step 3:  Use a 1/3-cup measure to place the cheesecake mixture into each cup. Use an offset spatula to press down and smooth the top. Combine 1 cup of Hershey Creme de Menthe Bliss candies in a measuring cup and microwave for 1 minute. The candies melt perfectly, so just give a little stir.

Step 4:  Pour a bit of this simple ganache on top of each cheesecake. Use an offset spatula to evenly spread the ganache on top of the cheesecakes. Place the tray into the freezer for at least four hours, but overnight is best. 

When you're ready to serve, simply remove the cheesecakes from the liners and enjoy. Since they're so small, you can eat them right out of your hand! For the sake of research, I tried one of the cheesecakes after it had been in the freezer just long enough to set the ganache. It was tasty but a bit messy since the filling is quite soft. I much preferred the one that I tried straight from the freezer this morning. The filling was a bit reminiscent of mint ice cream. 

I hope you'll give these minty treats a try as the weather begins to warm up this spring and summer. If you don't have any Thin Mints on hand (for shame!!), you could also make these treats using Mint Oreos that have been made into crumbs using the food processor. Just press some of the crumbs into the bottom of the paper cup to form the base.