Black Walnut and Coconut Banana Bread

This may be the best banana bread I’ve yet to bake. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop testing other variations. It’s not too dense and has a nice crumb but it’s not crumbly like some banana breads.

I’m also a huge fan of coconut and nuts in general. I’d gladly add walnuts or pecans to most anything. As good fortune would have it, I remembered that a friend had gifted me with a bag of black walnuts; so in went 3 ounces that I had coarsely chopped.

I also had some Cream of Wheat left from another recipe. It’s doubtful that I will ever eat a bowl of cream of wheat so I added half a cup just to use some of it.

IMG_2138Butter for preparing loaf pan
1 cup (8 oz) ripe bananas (about 2 large or 3 medium bananas)
1 3/4 cups (8 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (2.25 oz) cream of wheat
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup (2 oz) whole milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (4 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (7 oz) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup (2 oz) coconut (unsweetened)
Generous 1/2 cup (3 oz) chopped walnuts or pecans

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of 1 (approximately 10 x 5 x 3-inch) loaf pan and line with parchment paper leaving the paper to extend over the sides of the pan.

In a medium bowl weigh out 8 ounces of ripe bananas and mash with a folk. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cream of wheat, baking soda, and salt. In a glass measuring cup, measure out milk and add vanilla

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time continue beating until completely incorporated, about 1 minute. Add the mashed bananas and beat for about 30 seconds. Add the flour mixture in 2 batches, and stir on low speed until just incorporated, about 30 seconds total. Add coconut and nuts, if desired, and using a rubber spatula fold them into the batter.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf emerges clean, about 60 – 70 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack to let cool for 10 to 15 minutes then gently lift the bread out of the mold using the overhanging parchment paper.

DO AHEAD: Banana bread can be baked ahead, cooled completely, and kept, wrapped in plastic wrap, up to 2 days, or frozen, wrapped in plastic wrap and foil, up to 3 months.

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Navette Cookies from Marseille

When I turned the page of Jamie’s new book Orange Appeal and saw this recipe I was immediately transported back to Cannes (which is not far from Marseille).

There’s a shop in the old city where these little “boats” are stacked on a table from my waist to my head (okay, maybe not as tall as I thought) with flavors including pistachio, chocolate, and anise.

I easily doubled this recipe weighing out 2 ounce pieces of dough before rolling and forming into the boats as Jamie instructs below.  I ended up with 48 cookies.

The only other adaption was that I used heavy cream for brushing on the cookies prior to baking. I was out of milk and wasn’t about to forgo baking these because of it. It work just fine.

IMG_2170Jamie’s recipe as written below makes 12 cookies

1/2 cup (4 1/2 oz / 100 g) granulated white sugar
1 large egg
1 rounded teaspoon orange zest
3 teaspoons orange blossom water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (9 oz / 250 g) all-purpose flour
Milk, for brushing the cookies before baking

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the sugar and the egg on medium-high speed until pale, thick, and creamy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in the zest, orange blossom water, and oil.

Stir the salt into the flour and then beat 2/3 of the flour into the batter in 2 or 3 additions.  Finish folding the flour in by hand, kneading until all of the flour has been added and a smooth dough has developed. Form the the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and slightly flatten the ball into a disc. Cut the dough into 12 even wedges. Roll each wedge into a 3-inch-long (7 cm) oval log and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Shape the pieces of dough into small “navettes” or little boats by pressing to flatten just a bit, and pinching the 2 ends into rounded points. Make a 2-inch (5 cm) slit down the center of each with a sharp knife, cutting only halfway down into the dough, and carefully push the slit open slightly. Brush each cookie lightly with milk.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden; the tips and undersides should be a deeper golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to cool on a rack. Store in a covered container.

Recipe by Jamie Schler from Orange Appeal, reprinted by permission of Gibbs Smith.

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Tomato and Caramelized Onion Jam

IMG_2186It’s amazing how six tomatoes plants can be so prolific. There’s only so many BLTs a person can eat and I had already made tomato paste and sauce. I still had plenty of romas to make two batches of this jam.

It’s a little sweet, slightly tart and with just enough heat to give it a kick. It’s great with some artisan cheeses, on a grilled cheese sandwich, or dolloped on a crab cake. Actually, I should have spread some on those BLT’s I was enjoying.

Makes 4 half-pints

4 pounds roma tomatoes (about 20 medium)
4 medium yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced (yields about 1 ½ pounds)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
zest of one lemon, preferably organic
Juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon Piment d’Espelette
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
½ teaspoon Herbes de Provence

Half fill a stockpot with water and to a boil. Using a paring or serrated tomato knife cut a small X in the flower end of each tomato and carefully drop them into the boiling water. After the skin begins to peel back, using a slotted spoon remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and plunge them into an ice bath.

Once cool enough to handle, peel each of them*. Cut them into quarters, remove the seeds and tough interior core and coarsely chop. You should end up with about 2 pounds of fruit.

Melt butter and add olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed stainless steel or enameled cast iron saucepan over high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to caramelize. This should take between 15 – 20 minutes.

Add 2 tablespoons water and scrape up the fond (browned bits) with wooden spoon. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until fond has built up again, about 5 minutes longer. Add 2 more tablespoons water and scrape the pan to deglaze. Repeat cooking, adding water, and scraping until onions are completely softened and a deep, dark brown, about 30 – 45 minutes total.

To the caramelized onions add tomatoes, sugars, lemon zest and juice, vinegars, salt, Piment d’Espelette, pepper, and Herbes de Provence and stir to combine. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and barely simmer, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have broken down and thickened to a jammy consistency, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Once reduced, if a less chucky consistency is desired, run half the mixture through the largest disk of a food mill, give it a quick stir and remove the saucepan from the heat.

Transfer jam to an airtight container, allow to cool and store in refrigerator for up to two weeks, or ladle the hot mixture into 1/2 pint sterilized canning jars and process in a hot water bath according to the USDA canning directions for jam to seal for self storage.

*I dried the skins in a food dehydrator and pulverized them into powder using a spice (aka coffee) grinder.

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Apple and Sour Cherry Pie

I’m never one to settle for one dimensional tastes and pie filling is no exception. In this recipe I used a variety to apples. Seek out apples in your part of the country that are considered cooking or pie apples. Here in the Midwest, braeburns fill that bill. To those I added a couple of galas for sweetness and a pink lady; just because it’s fun.

If you only use one variety make sure that it is a cooking apple.  Otherwise, “eating’ apples will cook down too much and it will become an applesauce and sour cherry pie.

Makes a 9-inch deep dish pie

Pie dough for double crust
3/4 cup dried sour cherries
1/4 cup poire William or other brandy
scant 1/4 cup (2 oz) water
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz / 100 g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (2 oz / 60 g) light brown sugar
4 tablespoons (1 1/4 oz / 35 g) cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly ground
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
zest from one lemon, preferably organic
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 apples (about 3 1/2 pounds)
1/4 cup sour cherry jam, optional
beaten egg for brushing top
granulated or course sugar for sprinkling

Roll out each of two disks of dough to about 13-inch diameter. Line a 9-inch deep dish pie pan leaving the dough with about an inch overhang. Place the other on a sheet pan and place them in the refrigerator will preparing the filling.

In a small saucepan add the dried cherries, liqueur and water. Simmer on low heat until the cherries are plump and the liquid has evaporated. Watch as this only takes about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a large bowl mix together the sugars, cornstarch, cinnamon, cardamon, nutmeg, salt, zest and lemon juice.  Set aside.

Peel, core and slice apples into 1/4-inch slices. Toss into the sugar mixture as you go to prevent the apples from turning brown. Add the reconstituted the sour cherries to the apple mixture and mix to combine.

Pour the apple filling into a prepared pie shell, pressing down with your hands to compact the apples. Top with a second round of dough, folding top edge of dough under bottom edge and crimping as desired.


Place pie on a silcone or parchment lined sheet pan and bake for 30 minutes at 425°F. Reduce oven to 375°F and continue baking for another 30 minutes.

Cool completely on a rack. Slice and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.


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Easy Pie Dough – Double Crust

I’ve read Rose Levy Beranhaum’s book the Pie and Pastry Bible, numerous other cookbooks, and perused the Cooks Illustrated website. All gave me pointers on the use of various fats, flours, and mixing techniques but the Cooks Illustrated recipe was the most intriguing in it’s technique.

I’ve also never understood though why recipes for pie or tart dough call for forming the dough into a ball and then into a disk.  Why isn’t the beginning and end result just a disk? Unless it’s bread dough, I skip the formation into a ball and go right to forming the dough into a disk and the final pie or tart shape determines whether the shape of the “disk” is round, square or rectangular.

Also, when using liquid to make a dough I generally do not us it in all at once.  Sometimes the dough takes less liquid than called for in the recipe. I believe this has to do with the amount of water in the butter. Which brings me to my next point, which is making it a habit of using the same brand of butter for the sake of water content consistency.

This recipe makes enough dough for a 9-inch double crusted pie.  If not making a double crust by all means divide the dough in half and freeze half for another time.


2 3/4 cups (12.5 oz / 350 g) unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
2 tablespoons (25 g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon (5 g) kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 1/4 cups (10 oz / 280 g) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
6 tablespoons (2 oz / 85 ml) cold water

Combine two thirds (scant 2 cups or about 235 g) of flour with sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a couple of times to incorporate. Place the butter chunks evenly over surface. Pulse until no dry flour remains and dough just begins to collect in clumps, about 30 short and long pulses followed by running the processor until the clumps form.

Use a rubber spatula to spread the dough evenly around the bowl of the food processor. Sprinkle in remaining flour and pulse until dough is just barely broken up, about 5 short pulses give or take one. Transfer dough to a large bowl.

Sprinkle about half the water over the dough. Using a stiff rubber spatula, fold and press dough until it comes together into a disk. Add a little more water and continue to fold the dough over itself.  (I switched to using my hands to incorporate the dough into a homogeneous mass.) Divide disk approximately in half. Form each half into a 5-inch disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours as long as overnight before rolling and baking.

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Fresh Blueberry Tart with Almond Pastry Crust

When I was young the last thing I wanted to do was pick blueberries. Yet in late spring, for more years than not, I headed out to the berry patch with my grandmother. Other times, we’d go off in the woods hunting for wild ones.

I knew we weren’t finished when the picking was over as we’d fill little containers and sell them on the street corner for something like 50¢ a pint. The all-you-could-eat part however was great. I looked forward to that treat every year, hoping that the farmer didn’t ask me to stick out my tongue.

It did teach me the value of hard work and the care it takes to harvest fruit. I now gladly pay $4 or $5 a pint. The local season is fleeting, and the berries amazing, regardless of the part of the country in which you live. Once you’ve tasted a local berry it’s very difficult to enjoy those that have been shipped across the country much less from another continent.


1 1/4 cups (5 1/2 oz / 160 g) all-purpose flour
Scant 1/3 cup (1 oz / 30 g) almond flour (ground almonds)
2/3 cup (2 1/2 oz / 75 g) confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon (1 g) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon (1 g) kosher salt
Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean (optional)
5 tablespoons (2 ½ oz / 70 g) cold unsalted butter, diced
3 large egg yolks (52 g), cold

About 2 pints (12 oz / 450 g) fresh blueberries, washed and dried
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz / 75 g) granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons (7 1/2  g) cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons (15 g) freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of one lemon (about 1 tsp / 1 g) preferably organic

1 1/2 cups (6 oz/ 225 grams) fresh blueberries, washed and dried (optional)

In the bowl of a stand mixer sift together the flours, confectioners’ sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the chunks of cold butter. Using the paddle attachment beat on medium low speed until the mixture is mealy with no visible pieces of butter.

Add the egg yolks and seeds from the vanilla bean (if using) and beat on low speed until the ingredients are combined. It will look as if the mixture is too dry and your inclination will be to add more liquid. The next step will prevent that tendency.

Remove the mixture to a smooth, cold work surface (hmm, like your counter-top) and using the palm of your hand, smear the dough away from you a little at a time, turning it back onto itself with a bench scraper. This method of combining dough mixture is called fraisage.

After the dough has come together form it into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator to chill for at least six hours or preferably overnight. (If well wrapped, it can be frozen for up to three months.) If using frozen dough, place in the refrigerator overnight to thaw. When ready to roll out remove it from the refrigerator and allow to temper a bit at room temperature for easier rolling and to prevent the edges from cracking.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 13-inch round turning it as you go to prevent it from sticking to the counter surface. You can also use that bench scraper to keep it from sticking to the counter. To get the dough from the counter to the tart pan, roll it onto the rolling pin and then unroll into the pan.  Firmly press the pastry into the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan.

With the tines of a fork prick the bottom of the pastry. Cover the prepared tart shell and place in the refrigerator or freezer to chill while you preheat the oven to 400° F and prepare the blueberry filling.

In a large bowl mix together the sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and zest. Add the blueberries and gently stir to combine. Place the chilled tart shell on a parchment lined baking sheet. Pour the mixture into the shell and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350° F and continue baking until the tart is golden brown, the blueberries are bubbling and have become soft and jam-like (about another 40 – 45 minutes). If the edges of the crust are browning too much cover the edges with a pie shield.  (I use the ring from an 11-inch removable bottom tart pan.)

When the filling is bubbly remove the tart from oven and place on a wire rack. Top with the remaining blueberries (crown side up), pressing them gently in concentric circles into the hot blueberry filling. If precision is not your gig just scatter the remaining berries over the filling but still press them gently into it.

Let the tart cool to room temperature before serving. If desired, serve with softly whipped cream, crème fraîche, or vanilla ice cream. Cover and store leftovers in the refrigerator. After a day the crust will begin to soften, so my suggestion is eat any remaining for breakfast the next morning.

Makes about 8 -1 2 servings.

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Culinary Tour with Bret’s Table, Spring 2017


It’s early spring in Provence.  I drive past the Super U and around the roundabout with the Édith Piaf sign. Just ahead I whiz past the home where Paul and Julia Child lived. They were neighbors of Simone (Simca) Beck and her second husband Jean. I recognize the horse stables and the golf course. I know it’s not far to where we’ll be spending another glorious week in the Provençal countryside.

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Xavier and Robby have opened their B & B for us a week ahead of their usual schedule. The leaves on the grape vines are just beginning to unfurl and the buds pop on the fruit trees. Some of the olive trees on the property are hundreds of, as in 500 years old. Xavier mentioned that when you plant an olive tree you plant it for your grandchildren.


There’s also a mill nearby where he takes his olives to be pressed and bottled. That is, if the fruit is not decimated by a nasty fly; as it was last autumn. Sometimes nature wins when you follow organic practices.


It wasn’t too long after we arrived  when we were greeted with Xavier pouring us a glass of his vin de masion; his homemade bitter orange wine more aply called an apéritif. He bottles enough to sell for only 10€ a bottle. Having made my own vin de masion, that’s a steal!  This was my drink of choice each evening when we gathered with our hosts and the other guests who arrived later in the week.


We woke up to this view every morning, hearing only bird songs.

IMG_8794 (1)Each room or suite has it’s own little terrace to relax, read, or as we did one evening enjoy a bottle of wine and goodies we brought back from Cannes.


It’s Sunday evening in the village square of Valbonne. After our apéritif we head to the village for dinner.  Who cares that you left the Midwest at 5:00pm the day before and if your lucky got a few winks on the flight. You are in Provence and it’s best to get acclimated to the local time anyway, right?

IMG_8789During our post dinner stroll, we came upon yet another restaurant. We’ll have to put this one on our list for next time. And…this is only the end of just our first day. It will be an amazing week of great food, delicious wines, market tours, and cooking classes in the Côte d’Azur. If you’re on this side of the pond you may hear it referred to English as the French Riviera.


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Asparagus Vichyssoise

IMG_1411It’s a sure sign of spring when asparagus begins showing up in the market stateside as well as in France. During a recent culinary tour, I discovered that in France, green asparagus is seen as exotic and the white as ordinary. It makes me wonder how the French are growing the lily white variety that would deem it ordinary.I believe another trip is needed to resolve this question.

In the meantime, seeing these emerald spears spurred me to think about vichyssoise, but that sounded very familiar. A quick search on my blog and sure enough I posted a recipe in 2012.

Asparagus_Cannes Market

This recipe uses less milk and cream than the previous version and uses the blanching liquid instead of chicken stock. In the end it’s just a variation on a theme.

kosher salt
2 bunches green asparagus, washed
2 medium potatoes, such as Yukon Gold
2 large shallots, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
2 – 3 gratings of whole nutmeg (a whole nutmeg and a small microplane does the trick)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
blanching liquid
1/4 cup whole milk
1/3 – 1/2 cup heavy cream

In a 4 quart saucepan, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil.  Add a pinch of salt. While the water is coming to a boil, wash and trim the asparagus snapping off the tough ends. Cut off and reserve the tips; then cut stems into 2-inch pieces reserving those as well.

After the water comes to a boil add the asparagus stems and cook until a couple can easily be pierced with the tip of a paring knife (3 – 5 minutes). Using a slotted spoon remove the stems to an ice bath. Repeat with the asparagus tips and blanch for about 3 minutes. Remove the tips to a separate ice bath.

Repeat the blanching once more with the potatoes and cook until tender. Remove the potatoes from the blanching liquid and shock in an ice bath (either their own or the one with the stems). Reserve the blanching liquid.

Place a sauté pan on medium heat and add butter. Once butter is sizzling add the shallots and cook until just softened, but not browned. Add the carrots and continue to cook, adding about 1/2 cup or so of blanching liquid to allow the carrots to cook in the liquid until softened; adding more liquid as necessary. Stir in the herbes de Provence and a couple of gratings of nutmeg. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a heavy-duty blender, add the blanched asparagus stems, potatoes, shallot/carrot mixture, and a cup of the blanching liquid. Blend until puréed. If it is too thick, add more blanching liquid until the consistency of soup is achieved. Pour into a clean bowl.  Pour about 1/2 cup of milk over the surface of the purée and refrigerate until cold.

When ready to serve, stir in the cup heavy cream and taste for seasonings. Serve in chilled bowls or like I did and served it in champagne coupes as a first course.


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