I don’t mess around with Banana Bread recipes. I’ve already coined my mom’s recipe as “The BEST Banana Bread” so there really is no reason to tinker with it…. unless I can’t find sour cream.
As much as it kills me, I had to substitute Greek yogurt for the sour cream and the results were… noteworthy. Like, my friends devoured it within seconds and Tony, who hates bananas and attempts to only eat dessert on the weekends, was eating this for breakfast at 8AM on a Monday.
stubborn loyal person so my mom’s recipe still remains “The BEST Banana Bread,” but this version… this version was pretty amazing, especially for something that replaces sour cream with a healthy ingredient. However, I didn’t want anyone to think I was trying to post a healthy dessert so I added a healthy serving of Brown Sugar Crumble on top. It’s not optional. This crumble kind of makes the bread.
If you’re looking to eat healthy, then you probably shouldn’t be eating dessert in the first place, but this bread– full of bananas and protein-packed Greek yogurt is surely a decent runner-up and a lot more fun than no dessert at all ;).
Brown Butter Banana Bread by The Bite-Sized Baker:
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
4 ounces full-fat Greek yogurt, room temperature
4 ounces milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups ripe bananas, mashed (3-4 bananas)
1 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
Brown Sugar Crumble:
¼ cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup flour
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- To brown butter, place butter (8 tablespoons) in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until butter foams, then browns (be careful not to burn), 5–8 minutes. Remove pan from heat and set aside.
- To make the brown sugar crumble, combine brown sugar, flour, and 2 tablespoons of the browned butter in a small bowl using your fingers until it resembles coarse crumbs and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare one loaf pan.
- To make banana bread, in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition. Add baking soda, Greek yogurt, milk, and vanilla and blend well.
- In a separate bowl sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add to the wet ingredients, alternating with the mashed bananas.
- Pour into prepared loaf pan, sprinkle crumble generously over, and bake until top is brown and a toothpick comes out clean, 45-55 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes.
I’ve made a lot of silly and impulsive purchases in my life… Namely, in the kitchen department.
A quick fling with a double-bladed curved knife when I was obsessed with making all salads “chopped,” a gold Madeleine pan that I’ve used a total of two times, three different kinds of ice cream scoopers that sit in a drawer because I never actually eat ice cream with the intention of eating an entire bowl (I prefer to eat it straight out of the container with a spoon and standing in front of the freezer while constantly telling myself, “One last bite!”). A dozen milkshake cups… because who doesn’t make milkshakes regularly for 12 people? A mini cupcake pan, which isn’t that ridiculous, I just never use it and it irks me to my core. A 50-piece cake decorating kit, an endless edge brownie pan, a football-shaped cake pan, a mango pitter, a honey dipper, pretzel rod molds, six different tart pans, mini brioche pans, the list goes on… All things I simply could not live without at the time.
Thankfully, my poorly thought out kitchen includes 15-foot cabinets that I am unable to use unless I whip out an actual ladder so the majority of my impulsive kitchen purchases just sit in the cabinet… collecting dust until I open the cabinet door to throw in some other useless kitchen tool I impulsively bought that week.
My Lodge Cast Iron Skillet does not fall into that category and is one of the best kitchen purchases I’ve ever made. I was in college at the time when I bought it and thought a $70.00 purchase for a 15-inch skillet just seemed irresponsible, so I wimped out and only spent $37.00 for the 12-inch skillet… this was my one regret. But then again I didn’t know I would end up living with a man who regularly eats 2 pounds of meat in one sitting. If you’re a normal human being with a normal appetite, the 12-inch skillet comfortably feeds 3-4 people, whether it’s 6 chicken thighs, 4 burgers, or 20 meatballs.
I use my cast iron skillet probably 4-5 times a week… It just sits on my kitchen counter most days because I am either too lazy to reorganize my small pantry (that I can regularly access without a ladder) to make space for it ooor I just use it THAT frequently! I roast whole chickens, pan-sear chicken thighs, roast pork tenderloin, fry/bake steak… I’ve even baked a cast-iron Peach Brown Butter Buckle (which was absolutely amazing and as soon as peaches are in season, I’ll be blogging it) and Chocolate Chunk Skillet Cookie in this bad boy.
Yesterday, I made Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice from the beloved Jerusalem: A Cookbook in my cast-iron skillet and as always, it did not disappoint. Unfortunately, since I could only fit 6 chicken thighs in my 12-inch skillet, Tony ate the entire thing while I ate leftovers from the night before. But he was doing the happy dance at the table while eating it so I knew I had to recreate this dish to blog… and to eat… since Tony is leaving town tomorrow. Yipeee! No sharing for me!
This is a comfort meal for the masses! It’s a simple, warm, and fragrant one-pot meal that you can prepare and serve in less than an hour. It will make you want to eat the entire thing with a wooden spoon straight from the stove or do the happy dance while sitting at the table.
Chicken with Caramelized Onions and Cardamom Rice from Jerusalem: A Cookbook:
3 tablespoons sugar (40 grams)
2 ½ tablespoons barberries, or use currants (25 grams)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced (2 cups/250 grams)
2 ¼ pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (1 kilogram), or 1 whole chicken, quartered
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 cardamom pods
Rounded ¼ teaspoon whole cloves
2 long cinnamon sticks, broken in two
1 2/3 cups basmati rice (300 grams)
2 ¼ cups boiling water (550 milliliters)
1 ½ tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves (5 grams), chopped
½ cup dill leaves (5 grams), chopped
¼ cup cilantro leaves (5 grams), chopped
1/3 cup Greek yogurt (100 grams), mixed with 2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
- Put the sugar and scant 3 tablespoons water in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat, add the barberries, and set aside to soak. If using currants, you do not need to soak them in this way.
- Meanwhile, heat half the olive oil in a large sauté pan for which you have a lid over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion has turned a deep golden brown. Transfer the onion to a small bowl and wipe the pan clean.
- Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl and season with 1½ teaspoons each salt and black pepper. Add the remaining olive oil, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and use your hands to mix everything together well. Heat the frying pan again and place the chicken and spices in it. Sear chicken for 5 minutes on each side and remove from the pan (this is important as it part-cooks the chicken). The spices can stay in the pan, but don’t worry if they stick to the chicken. Remove most of the remaining oil as well, leaving just a thin film at the bottom. Add the rice, caramelized onion, 1 teaspoon salt and plenty of black pepper. Drain the barberries and add them as well. Stir well and return the seared chicken to the pan, pushing it into the rice.
- Pour the boiling water over the rice and chicken, cover the pan, and cook over very low heat for 30 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, remove the lid, quickly place a clean tea towel over the pan, and seal again with the lid. Leave the dish undisturbed for another 10 minutes. Finally, add the herbs and use a fork to stir them in and fluff up the rice. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve hot or warm with yogurt mixture if you like.
Well, friends, Tony and I have officially lived in Italy for a year as of today, February 12th, 2015!
I wish I could say I wake up every day and count my lucky stars that I’ve been given this wonderful opportunity to live abroad, explore new cities, visit art museums, and eat pasta and gelato every day, but the reality is, that’s just not true at all… In fact, most days I wake up to 30+ missed text messages from my three sisters while I was sleeping and I just think about how badly I wish I were near friends and family, or just people who spoke the same language as me… But that isn’t to say this past year hasn’t been one of the best in my life. It’s just different. Everything is different.
When people ask me what’s it like to live in Italy, my response is always the same, “There aren’t any huge differences, but everything is a bit different.” And all those little differences eventually begin to add up and cause you to explode at times!
A few months ago, Tony and I were driving home and in typical Italian fashion, there were cars parked illegally with their hazards on all along the right lane of a busy three-lane road. This infuriates me. Many Italians think they’re entitled to just stop in the middle of a busy road, throw on their hazards, and run a few errands—despite the traffic jam they’re causing or the legally parked cars they’re blocking. Tony and I just laugh and say, “So Italian,” and then we do the same thing the following day. But I wanted to write down all these instances of Italians being Italian just so I could take it home with me and remember it forever! I have an ongoing list of 100+ things, but for the sake of time and retaining your attention, I’ll limit it to 12… One thing for every month I’ve lived here!
**Please note that these are just my personal observations on what is DIFFERENT and what I have LEARNED about living in Italy in the past year. These are not OPINIONS on what I would change or dislike… except for maybe the bad driving, long queues, smelly sewage, and toothbrushes.
1. Walking on the sidewalks of Italy is kind of like a big game of “Chicken.” The sidewalks here are TINY and when you’re walking past another person, someone typically has to step aside to allow the other person to pass without one of you ending up on the street. If you’re truly Italian, you’ll just walk in groups of 2-3 and make zero effort to walk in single file line when walking past others. Speaking of lines, they are a comical concept here. If there’s a long line somewhere, most Italians will just cut in front of you if you look remotely like a tourist. I always like to scream “No cutsies!” in Italian and surprise them with my language abilities (or lack thereof).
2. Despite age, PDA is prevalent and excessive. I don’t know what it is about making out on a public bench or in the middle of the sidewalk, but it gets pretty intense around these parts. I can’t help but judge the adults I see getting after it in front of building doors. Just go upstairs already!!! Also, I never realized this until moving to Italy, but I get pretty uncomfortable hugging and kissing my friends hello and goodbye every time I see them… I see you guys every day, why must I kiss and hug you as if it’s been ages? But when in Italy, I say “Ciao!” and I kiss both cheeks– right side first. I’ve made the mistake of going left more times than I can count resulting in some pretty awkward kissing exchanges.
3. Italy might have the best coffee in the world, but catching up with friends over a cup of coffee ((let’s be real, a “latte”) in a cozy coffee shop does not exist here. In fact, sitting down is an extra surcharge and drinking anything with milk after 12 o’clock is frowned upon in Italy. For a long time, I tried to blend in and adapt the Italian coffee culture by standing at the counter and gagging down shots of espresso, but what kind of life is that if you don’t enjoy it?! Thankfully, Tony and I befriended the owner of the coffee shop down the road so he doesn’t give us weird looks and charge us extra when we sit down to drink our coffee and talk for 30 minutes versus standing at the counter and taking shots within a 2-minute time period.
4. When dining in Italy, prepare yourself for at least a 2-3 hour meal. You can either get upset at the relaxed service and slower pace of food, or you can use that time to actually savor each course and engage in conversation with your dinner date. The food is truly amazing and for the most part everything is sourced locally so you have access to organic produce, meat, and poultry without the price tag. But be aware of the giant mounds of gelato, this is not the real stuff! A 2-foot mound of gelato might look tempting, but walk away!
5. Driving is a big ticker for me, which is kind of ironic because I don’t drive 95% of the time. When people say Italian drivers are crazy, they are absolutely correct. General rules of driving, staying in your lane, and blinkers DO NOT exist here. Also, caravanning in Italy is nearly impossible. Without fail, every time we embark on a driving expedition with friends, we are all lost, separated, and calling each other within five minutes of entering the autostrada. Our Italian friend has confirmed that this is always the case when caravanning with Italians. Lastly… enough with the roundabouts, Italy! Italians and roundabouts just DO NOT work. As Tony and I like to say, “it’s a total clusterf*ck.” (Photo Below: Our first “caravan” experience to the Apuan Alps.)
6. Florence does not have a centralized sewage system and when it rains, it fricken stinks…. Typically each building has their own septic tank and I’m not sure what exactly the connection is, but Tony and I cannot turn on the heaters in our apartment without the place smelling of sewage. Bella Italia!
7. American students studying abroad have zero cultural awareness and they make me ashamed to be an American girl sometimes. American students have a pretty bad reputation among Italians— loud, sloppy, and stupid… I understand, you’re in college, and that’s what college is about! But when you’re studying abroad, observe your surroundings and notice that women aren’t scantily clad, screaming their conversations, and getting white-girl wasted on a Thursday night. Take note, ladies and gentlemen. Cover up and pipe down. (I didn’t have any photographic evidence of this, so I just posted a picture of me; scantily clad and drunk on a boat instead.)
8. Italians are significantly more attractive, more stylish, and in better shape than Americans. Italians would never be caught dead wearing work-out gear, flip-flops, or anything that may also be worn to bed in public. Every single Italian, regardless of their economic status, takes pride in themselves and is always perfectly put together and the women always seem to be toting around some designer purse, typically Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, Prada, or Gucci. Not only are the women stylish and chic, but they’re also naturally beautiful and they never seem to wear that much makeup. I don’t understand it… and how can everyone afford designer brands?? (Just trying to blend in.)
9. This a huge pet peeve of mine…. Italy does not sell soft toothbrushes– only medium or hard. This absolutely irks me to me core. My parents have invested way too much money in my dental and orthodontic care to result in receding gum-lines because of abrasive toothbrushes!!! That is all.
10. Italians love dogs! Italians love to whistle at your dog from across the street or come up to you and just start petting your dog without asking permission. You can literally bring them EVERYWHERE too. And believe me, I do…. Grocery stores, pharmacies, IKEA, dressing rooms, restaurants, bars, gondolas… everywhere! But with all those dogs walking about, just be aware of the dog poop on the sidewalks. Apparently, it is very un-chic and un-Italian to pick up after your dog.
11. Inefficiency. Everything. Everything is inefficient. I can’t even begin to describe to what magnitude because it’s just… exhausting. Off the top of my head, the garbage trucks… If you just picked up trash at 5-6AM instead of 9AM, you would avoid a 20-minute traffic jam. Or the number of people working the cash register at a grocery store on a busy day… Why is there only one cashier open when there are five people just chilling? It took Tony and I FIVE days and three separate visits from the technician to get functioning Internet in our apartment. Also, NO ONE uses debit or credit cards here. Everyone pays in cash. And if you’re total is €4.85, they expect you to pay the exact amount. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve handed over a bill and the cashier asks me if I have the exact change and waits for me to count out .85 centesimi.
12. That being said… Italians ENJOY life… In Italy, life is much more relaxed and unhurried and this laid-back mentality is prevalent in EVERYTHING they do… Time is flexible and there is nothing that important that can’t wait until tomorrow. So drink that glass of wine, enjoy that pasta, gesticulate your stories, show up late, kiss your friends and family, and dress to impress… perché no?! Unless you are a brutta figura, then go back to where you came from.
Three years ago, I met Tony… As a typical “we met in college” story goes, we met at Evanston’s second classiest establishment, The Deuce, and I was inebriated beyond recollection.
In the four years that I had gone to Northwestern I had never met nor heard of Tony. I did, however, see him frequently on my way to class during my senior year and thought to myself, “that boy is so cute.” A very rare finding at NU. Maybe it was the alcohol or my love life at the time, which was non-existent, but I was determined to meet him.
I saw him a few nights before at Evanston’s most notorious bar, “The Keg,” and my best friend, Regan, suggested that maybe it wasn’t the best line to introduce yourself as, “Hi, I’m Claire and we sometimes make awkward eye contact on our way to class,” but as I said, I was determined and that’s exactly what I did the second night I saw him out at The Deuce. I introduced myself and Tony just stared blankly at me; apparently Tony had no idea what I was referring to and just thought I was a drunk girl at the bar… Which I later confirmed by asking him a total of ten times throughout our conversation if he remembered my name or not. Smoooooth.
I’m told we chatted about my food blog, The Cellar, hockey, running, traveling, and dogs among other things. At the end of the night as sober Tony tried to end his night early as the designated driver, he asked if I wanted to go back to Evanston, which I misinterpreted as him trying to make a pass and said, “Um, no! But if you want, you can ask me for my number and maybe we can go out sometime…”
Surprisingly, Tony did ask me for my number, but the following morning I could only recall giving my number to “the really cute guy,” but couldn’t remember if his name was Mark or not… The start to every good love story!
Two days passed before Tony texted me telling me he “hoped I remembered Tony from the Deuce,” and then asked to go to coffee the following day. We met at Peet’s Coffee, where we could not stop talking and I learned that he has the most beautiful green eyes (when they’re actually open), was getting a puppy within the week, was Lebanese and Hungarian, spoke French fluently, played hockey, loved Rick Ross (but that was more of a negative), was a huge foodie, and had plans to travel the world… Our conversation was cut short because he had a hockey game and I had to develop some film, but he asked to take me to dinner the next night at The Cellar, since apparently I told him I had never gone and really wanted to the night we met…
After he dropped me off at my photography class, I walked in the building and then turned around and ran to the library as fast as I could so I could tell my best friend that I was in love and found “The One…” and the rest is history!
I am so thankful for you, Tony! You are my best friend, my biggest supporter, my adventure partner, and the greatest fiancé I could ever ask for. You make me comfortable enough to be me, 100% of the time. You love me unconditionally and have given me the opportunity to chase my dreams and travel the world. You’re the only person crazy enough to put up with my crazy. I love you and cannot wait for the rest of our adventures!
So I made you meatballs, the first dinner I made you in your dirty college apartment, but this time I didn’t double the garlic.
Baked Lamb and Oregano Meatballs recipe by Donna Hay:
½ cup (80 grams) fine burghul
¾ cup (185 milliliters) boiling water
1 kilogram lamb mince
2 cups oregano leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon caster (superfine) sugar
⅓ cup (80 millilitres) pomegranate molasses or balsamic glaze
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1½ tablespoons harissa paste
2¼ cups (700 grams) tomato purée (passata)
2 cups (200 grams) grated mozzarella
¼ cup (20 grams) finely grated pecorino
½ cup oregano leaves, extra
- Preheat oven to 250°C (500°F). Place the burghul and water in a large bowl and mix to combine. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to stand for 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the grains are tender.
- Add the mince, eggs, oregano, cumin, 2 teaspoons of the sugar, the pomegranate molasses, salt and pepper and mix well to combine. Using wet hands, roll 2 tablespoons at a time into balls.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large non-stick frying pan over high heat. Cook the meatballs, in batches, turning frequently, for 5–7 minutes or until browned. Place in a 2.5-litre ovenproof dish and set aside.
- Heat the remaining oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute or until lightly golden. Add the harissa, purée, remaining sugar, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Bring to the boil and cook for 5–7 minutes or until slightly reduced.
- Pour the sauce into the dish over the meatballs and top with the mozzarella and pecorino.
- Bake for 10–12 minutes, top with the extra oregano leaves and cook for a further 2–3 minutes or until golden. Serves 4–6.
On our very first trip to Amsterdam, Tony and I stumbled upon this little Thai restaurant across the street from the AirBNB we were staying in. We walked inside and there were paintings all over the walls of mouths and distorted cartoon faces with big ears and the tables were decorated with white business shirts and ties. It was all very strange, but we were starving and didn’t know where else to go so we took a seat at an open table.
They gave us our menus and served us these shrimp chips with peanut sauce to snack on while we reviewed the menu. After staring at the menu for a solid fifteen minutes, we still were only able to decipher about five of the dishes because everything on the menu was so unlike the typical Thai restaurants we frequented in Chicago… and those shrimp chips were so amazing that I couldn’t really focus on anything else. We ordered some Thai beer, Tom Kha Kai Soup, Pad Thai, and took our chances on a few other dishes that I can’t remember for the life of me.
After a few moments, they served us our beer in these trippy little slanted glasses so that every time you put down your glass you thought it was going to fall over. Not very conducive for our state of mind. Then they brought out our Tom Kha Kai soup, and without waiting a single second, I took my first spoonful and it was SCALDING HOT. Like, so hot that it was burning the insides of my mouth and tongue and I couldn’t swallow it and in the exact same moment I realized exactly how hot my soup was, a fellow patron was walking into the restaurant, locked eye contact with me, and had to witness as I was literally drooling and spitting out the soup like a dog. He just started laughing at me and I would have too because it was kind of a funny situation, but I was too busy with chugging beer to cool down my mouth. Anyway, after letting the soup cool down for a few moments, I was able to taste the lovely concoction of spices, sweetness, and sourness that is Tom Kha Kai soup and it was delicious.
After devouring the rest of our meal, they placed two small plates with a small, white, cylindrical mound in the middle of the plate. Tony thought it was some kind of marshmallow-gift from the chef since we ate so much, but as he popped it in his mouth to eat, the waiter came by with a tea kettle of hot water and poured it over my plate and the “marshmallow” unraveled and revealed itself as a small, damp towel to clean your hands with… Whoops.
Safe to say, between spitting out the soup and the towel incident, Tony and I were utterly embarrassed and we refuse to show our faces at that restaurant again. Thankfully, you can find Thai food all over Amsterdam and they always have Tom Kha Kai on the menu! Since Italy lacks any kind of food diversity, I decided to recreate the soup at home for a nice, warm dinner on a chilly Sunday night! It’s easy to make and can easily be adjusted to meet your palate!
Tom Kha Kai Soup by The Bite-Sized Baker:
2 quarts chicken broth
4 lemongrass stalks, smashed and cut into 1” pieces
12 kaffir leaves or ½ cup lime juice and 2 tablespoons lime zest
3-inch piece of galangal or ginger
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
16-ounces oyster or button mushrooms, sliced
3 13.5-ounce cans full-fat coconut milk
½ cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
5 Thai chilies, sliced
Cilantro, for garnish
Lime wedges, for garnish
Chili sauce, for garnish
- To make the soup, in a very large stockpot, combine broth, lemongrass, kaffir leaves, and galangal and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 10 minutes until flavors have melded.
- Using a fine-mesh strainer, transfer broth to a new stockpot and discard solids. On low heat, add the chicken and poach for 15-20 minutes, until chicken has cooked through. Add mushrooms and continue cooking until mushrooms are tender. Mix in coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar, and Thai chilies. Continue cooking for five more minutes until flavors have melded. Taste and add more fish sauce, sugar, and chilies as desired.
- Serve with freshly chopped cilantro, extra lime wedges, and chili sauce.