Best banana bread recipe really is

I never, and I mean never, post recipes here that I find on the Web. I am going to make an exception for this banana bread recipe, which claims to be “Best Banana Bread.”

It is. By far. It calls for 4 bananas. You know it’s going to be a moist quick bread just from the looks of the batter.

Banana bread batter in cake pan

Here’s the finished product.

Banana bread ready in square cake pan

I often make quick bread in a square cake pan. We like it that way. You need not worry about slicing evenly, and slices falling apart. You get it.

It’s hot as blazes in the Bay Area right now, but I have guests from Germany who wanted some typical American fare. Given that I had some overripe bananas hanging around, I Googled “best banana bread” and that is exactly what I got.

More to come when things turn chilly around here.

Here’s a link to the recipe.

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Yo Sushi is Good, but Yo Nacho is a Problem

Two photos of the yo nacho from yo sushi in albany, showing how different they were on different days of the same weekAfter the demise of Zaki Kabob House in Albany — the first restaurant in that location to confound its formerly cursed status — came small local chainer Yo Sushi, a casual, order-at-the-front-and-pick-up-your-food-when-it’s ready, brightly-colored and youthful Japanese place focusing on sushi and sashimi, but offering many of the other usual suspects, like tempura and udon.

Oddball things that I tend to stay away from, too. You know, strange and/or deep-fried sushi-like concoctions.

Case in point, the Yo Nacho ($6.95), which my son and I took a chance on this past Thursday. Here’s the menu description:

     Yo Nacho deep fried wonton cups stuffed w/crabmeat chopped Tataki Tuna, onion,            Avocado, orange Top w/Tobiko & special sauce

We loved it. It was not only delicious, but complex. Lots of tataki tuna, which is seared on the edges but raw in the middle, green onion and tobiko. Plenty of avocado, too. It was a loose filling, because it had very little mayo, if any, and there was a tartness about it, too. There was also a bit of heat. Nice.

Cycle to today, when I took my husband there to have the same appetizer.

Now, I hate to open this essay with the one problem we had at Yo Sushi after a good half-dozen visits, but I’m plenty riled up about it, and it can be a real downer if it happens often. Consistency.

What we received today, Saturday, was heavy faux crab salad loaded with mayo. It was sweet and had mango chunks. There was no avocado, and if there was any onion or tataki tuna, I could not taste or see either. Ditto real crabmeat. If it was there, it was lost in a sea of one-dimernsional mush.

See the difference for yourself in the photo above.

When I pointed this out, one of the staff took it away and brought it back, telling me there was tuna in it. He pointed to some tiny shred in one I had taken a bite out of, saying that that was tuna. I could not see it. I could not taste it. No fix oferred. Just some kind of statement about a “new chef.”

I am seriously annoyed right now, because I wound up subjecting Steven to something blah after having given it a buildup.

Never again. It reinforces my general rule to steer clear of stuff like that altogether.

The nacho issue aside, this is a good place. A very good place.

Interior of Yo Sushi in Albany CA

We latched on since it opened, which was a few months ago, and make the short drive to 1107 San Pablo Avenue once a week, at least. Who doesn’t like good, affordable sushi on a regular basis?

The Yo Sashimi Combo ($16.95) is excellent. You get 16 pieces of sashimi (4 each of tuna, white tuna, salmon and hamachi), miso soup, rice and pickles. The generous slices of perfectly fresh fish sit atop bales of spiraled daikon and nestle a few slices of lemon.

Yo sashimi combo at yo sushi in albany CA

If you want only tuna and salmon you save a couple of bucks — it’s $14.95.

combo sashimi with salmon and tuna

The Deluxe Sushi Special is a good choice, too. A spicy tuna roll and 7 pieces of nigiri for $11.95. Included are salmon, tuna, white tuna, ebi, unagi, tako and hamachi.

deluxe sushi special at yo sushi in albany, CA

The spicy tuna rolls are good. The eel, well, it’s a bit too sweet for me. There’s something about it I’m not crazy about compared to other places.

The miso soup is excellent, and the sushi rice is as it should be in terms of flavor and consistency. Not sweet, they don’t pack it too tightly, and it’s at the right temperature.

The Agedashi Tofu is OK. Not great, not enough sauce, and I prefer when it’s made with silken tofu, but it’s fine.

Age dashi tofu at Yo Sushi in Albany CA

We stick mainly with the nigiri and sashimi combos. I was not blown away by any but the spicy tuna rolls so far, but it’s a long list and there’s time.


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New York Cult Recipes: Cookbook Review

Small photo of cover of New York Cult Recipes (2013) by Marc Grossman

If you grew up in NYC back in the day you will have problems with Marc Grossman’s New York Cult Recipes (2013).

I am being generous in my opening gambit, if nothing more than for the use of “flapjacks.” No New York City native would EVER say “flapjacks,” and it almost delegitimized the whole book for me. It’s PANCAKES. I almost fainted when I saw this. And “Silver Dollar Flapjacks?” Are you kidding me?

First off, the title markets the book one way and the fine print and recipes another. I thought I was buying a book that dealt solely with classic dishes associated with NYC during a certain period, say maybe post-WWII through the 1980s. I have no problem giving plenty of latitude, but a green smoothie and all those cupcakes? A veggie burger?

I certainly would not have jazzed up or updated classic recipes to the extent of a chicken salad with avocado instead of mayo. There are a million other cookbooks out there that take classic recipes to a place that’s more acceptable to current tastes.

Yes, there are numerous recipes for “iconic” NYC dishes, as well as some nice little extras, but there are things the author could have included rather than expending real estate on dishes that make you go “huh?”. Peanut butter smoothie?

The author makes it clear in his intro that these recipes are specific to his unique experience (I am paraphrasing here), which basically takes him off the hook for whatever he wanted to include. No problem, but then convey that in the title.

How about including a knock-off Papaya King drink recipe and Biscuit Tortoni recipe in place of some of those donuts? How about an egg and potato hero — something that screams New York City back in the day? There are many iconic dishes that could have been included rather than those from more recent trends.

Here are a couple nits I need to pick:

His fermented pickles (Slow Pickles) call for distilled water. Many serious fermenters, myself included, would never, ever use distilled water because it’s stripped of everything — including the minerals a ferment needs. Any person wanting to use natural fermentation to make pickles needs to do their research. Seriously. You need to know what you’re doing and make your choice about water (I use spring water) accordingly. Also, standard off-the-shelf pickling spices have no place in NY-style/Kosher-style dill pickles. The author plays fast and loose with spices in his recipe, but if you want the real deal, start with just peppercorns and maybe a few mustard seeds and see how you like that.

More about the pickles. What the author says about half-sours is incorrect. They are not pickled in a full brine and taken out sooner. They are fermented in a weaker brine. Fermenting in a weak brine is potentially hazardous, so it may be safer to approximate a half-sour by his method (I do this sometimes, too), but I have to wonder about the research here. The recipe comes across as all book-work with little hands-on experience.

That said, there are many very nice recipes here. It is just not “130 Recipes for the City’s Most Iconic Foods,” unless you consider a Chocolate Protein Drink classic NYC.

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Downsizing, or Why I Buy Ben & Jerry’s, Where a Pint is a Pint is a Pint


A Häagen-Dazs “pint” has been 14 ounces since 2009. A “quart” has been 28 ounces. At Ben & Jerry’s, though, a pint is still a pint and a quart still a quart.

Downsizing always makes me mad.

Why don’t manufacturers take a little hit to their own bottom lines in order to benefit the consumer? I guess in today’s world greed reigns supreme.

Downsizing is why I now rarely buy Hellmann’s/Best Foods mayo. I buy Kirkland brand, which is excellent, and believe me when I say that I was always a Hellmann’s girl. I’m from New York City, for crying out loud.

The Kirkland version is a little salty, but it’s great, and is a full 64 ounces!

I am simply tired of being given less. I understand that prices need to go up now and then. I get that. This game of downsizing, though, I don’t get, and I try to opt out of participation whenever possible.



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Do Most Plug-in Grilled Cheese Makers Stink?


Short and sweet: The Snoopy Grilled Cheese Maker is a piece of junk. Unless you want grilled cheese sandwiches that are as thin as dimes and hard as them, too.

Even using cruddy, soft white bread and one slice of cheese yields something too thick to close the thing without squashing the sandwich into a wafer. I have had to revert to thin-sliced rye and thin-sliced cheese, which results in something akin to a large cheese cracker.

This is Smart Planet model SGCM1. Avoid it like the plague. I bought it at Grocery Outlet for $15.

The only real use I get out of this thing is courtesy of the box. My cat likes it.

It will be unloaded at my next garage sale.



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Caramel in a Pinch

Caramel in a glass jar.

Quick & Easy Caramel Sauce

If you find you’re in need of caramel and don’t want to go through the full spiel, read on.

Caramel elevates most everything it’s added to, and to have a decent caramel sauce available with little notice and a reduced chance of being maimed by sugar cooked above 230 deg F. — which is what you do to make it the “real” way — is heaven.

This quick recipe is more milky than traditionally-made caramel, which, in a nutshell, involves cooking sugar to a high temperature and then cutting it with butter and/or heavy cream.

To make it the quick way you cook a little butter and sugar and then add a can of sweetened condensed milk and continue to cook it.  The whole thing takes about 30 minutes, give or take.

Let’s start with something even easier, though.

Can of sweetened condensed milk

Dulce de Leche

If you use only sweetened condensed milk, you’ll be making dulce de leche, a caramelized milk and sugar confection.

Some people boil a can of sweetened condensed milk for several hours, but it’s dangerous. If you don’t keep it completely submerged the whole time it can explode, and you don’t want any part of that.

I generally just cook the sweetened condensed milk down slowly in a saucepan.

I sometimes put it in little canning jars, place them in my slow cooker, completely submerge them under water, and cook on low for 7 hours or so — making sure the jars remain completely submerged.  If you try this, be sure to take them out carefully when done, like with jar lifters, and allow them to cool down some before you open anything. Whatever you do, don’t put hot jars on a cold surface or they’ll crack!  I got the slow cooker/canning jar idea here.

Quick Caramel with Butter

If you want a buttery-milky faux caramel, use the recipe I’ve included at the end of this posting.

You’ll need only a little white sugar (it’ll work better than organic sugar), a little butter and sweetened condensed milk.

Leftover caramel in blue bowl with spoon

Because I assume you need a topping for that quart of ice cream burning a hole in your freezer and not because you’re producing artisanal candies, I think you’ll be happy with the result.

If it’s thick, you can thin it with milk or cream.

If it’s grainy, you can sieve it.

Just don’t burn the caramel.  If you burn it, it is not salvageable, and you will be unhappy.

Quick Caramel Sauce
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
If you have a little butter and a little sugar and a can of sweetened condensed milk on hand, you can make a respectable caramel sauce.
Recipe type: Dessert
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar (organic or brown sugar can sometimes cause graininess)
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • Milk or cream to thin, if needed
  1. Cook sugar and butter in small saucepan over moderate heat until sugar has melted
  2. Add sweetened condensed milk and combine well with sugar/butter mixture
  3. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with heat-proof spatula
  4. Cook until you get the color and consistency you want. DO NOT BURN!
  5. If too thick, CAREFULLY thin with heavy cream or milk while still in the saucepan and combine well. The mass will be VERY HOT and it may bubble up when you add the milk or cream!
  6. If grainy, just press through a sieve



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The CSA Experience: Part 6

Leeks cut into edible and broth parts

I’m not telling you to “Eat Broth.” I’m showing the parts of a leek that you eat and the parts that are so tough you should use them for broth. Unless you’re a goat.

Remember when I made the leek and feta scramble in installment 2 of this series?  I was then left with tough leek ends.

I used those ends today to make a soup with potatoes and ham.

Not so sexy, I know.

I promised I’d keep you informed about how I incorporate my biweekly CSA box from Albert & Eve into my life.  I think it’s helpful to have the whole story, not just cherry-picked recipes and photos of the beautiful stuff.  For every lovely dish of rainbow carrots or braised artichokes you put out out you’re going to have to figure out what to do with a whole mess of green onions.  Or trimmings.

While not every dish can be mind-blowing, they can all be tasty, even when they’re frugal,
and frugality is a must with a CSA box or you’ll wind up with some of it in the recycle bin.

The possibly of that makes me nuts.

Take the artichokes, for example.

I’m constantly thinking about them — even though I have a master plan.  They’ve been sitting in the fridge for over a week now, wrapped in damp paper towels to keep them lively.

Pending some kind of major problem, I’ll be getting another three artichokes in my next box.  I want to make all of them at the same time rather than just the three I received in my first box.  You see, I have four people.  There will be a general outcry if I come out with less than one per head.

Back to the leek ends and leek broth.

Leek broth is great for soups that benefit from mild oniony flavor.  Potato soup works especially well.

If you have a bunch of leek ends, a few big potatoes and some leftover ham or pork you’re in business. You won’t end up with a pretty, fancy-pants soup, but it’ll be plenty comforting.

This is why I’m always throwing odd little bags of leftover meat in the freezer and why you should, too.  Raw or cooked — doesn’t matter.

Potato soup with leek stock and roast pork

OK, so it’s not the most attractive soup, but it’s wonderful tasting and comforting

The soup in the photo has some green flecks in it because I tossed in the leftover bohr kale tapenade from installment 5.  Why not?  The tapenade has a complementary flavor profile, and leek and kale go very well together.

Here, then, are the instructions for this frugal soup.

Potato & Pork Soup with Leek Broth
Use the dark green parts of your leeks to make a broth for a highly-customizable potato-pork soup.
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: American
  • Dark green ends of 7 or 8 leeks, rinsed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 8 cups water
  • 3 large Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Leftover cooked roast pork, cubed, shredded or sliced, as desired. You can use ham, if that's what you have, or even chicken. Leftover chicken thigh meat works very well. Keep the pieces small so they heat through fairly quickly.
  1. Place leeks in pot large enough to make soup and cover with the water.
  2. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 30 minutes.
  3. Strain broth and return to pot, discarding leek pieces.
  4. Add potatoes.
  5. Remove enough broth so that the potatoes are just covered. If you don't have enough broth, add a little water. It all depends upon the size of the potatoes you used.
  6. Add salt & pepper. If the pork you are using for this dish is salty, then keep that in mind when you add salt at this step.
  7. Bring to a boil.
  8. Simmer until potatoes are just about done.
  9. Add pork and bring back to a simmer.
  10. Cook until potatoes are done.
  11. Stamp potatoes with a potato masher, or end of a wire whisk, so that you wind up with a thick, chunky soup.
  12. Adjust seasonings.



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The CSA Experience: Part 5

red bohr kale in a glass jar

The red flecks in this jar of garlicky kale tapenade come from the red stems of the kale itself. This is served warm with chèvre and fresh crusty bread.

Albert & Eve included two beautiful bunches of red bohr kale in my first CSA box.

Normally I would braise the kale with kimchi and extra garlic, but I was out of luck in the kimchi department so I had to think of something else.  Something really different. Especially since I served some of the other stuff in the box pretty conservatively, like the rainbow carrots in installment 4 of this series.

I had a large Acme sourdough round on my hands and a big log of basic chèvre — fresh goat cheese.  Not the $40 a pound precious stuff, but the wonderful Laura Chenel that put US-produced chèvre on the map back in the day.

The wheels turned.

Why not make a warm tapenade to serve on top of thick slices of the bread slathered with the cheese?  Chèvre is tangy, light and dry-creamy and goes well with opposite flavors and textures.  Sturdy, curly-leaved red bohr, AKA “purple,” kale packs a pungent, bitter punch.  It could work, I figured.

red bohr kale bunches

I washed and cut my kale into short strips, stems and all.  No problem including the stems because the kale would be braised and processed.

Kale saute mix

I used butter and oil in my saute mix.  Why not?  The tapenade would be eaten warm, so butter would work well, but you don’t have to use it.  I tell you as much in the recipe at the end of this post.

Kale saute mix blended

I sauteed the kale in the seasoned butter/oil mix, braised, processed and then pressed it into a pretty canning jar.  Serving it in a glass jar was a nice little bonus that the family appreciated.  They get the whole “eating with your eyes” thing around here.

bohr kale tapenade on bread

We toasted thickly-sliced bread, layed on goat cheese, and then topped with the warm kale spread.

I hope you give this a try as an altenative to your usual kale preparation.  Even folks who don’t like it may in this disguise.  After all, you have to find some way to get this nutrient-packed veggie into the people you feed.

Garlicky Red Bohr Kale Tapenade
Warm tapenade made with red bohr kale. Serve it in a canning jar for extra flair! Spoon onto crusty bread spread with chèvre.
Recipe type: Appetizer, Brunch
Cuisine: American
  • 2 bunches red bohr kale, washed and cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil (you can use all oil and no butter, if you like)
  • 3 tablespoons crushed fresh garlic
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper powder or flakes (to taste)
  • Whatever else you like. A little chopped onion, for example. Chopped scallions. I sometimes use gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes -- the kind used in kimchi) and a drop of fish or anchovy sauce. Make it to your taste with logical seasoning combinations and alter the instructions below appropriately).
  • Kosher salt to taste (amount dependent upon what you use)
  • ¾ cup water
  1. Mix softened butter, oil, garlic and pepper into a paste and add to saute pan
  2. Heat mixture over medium flame until just bubbly and then add kale
  3. Saute kale for about 3 mins
  4. Add a little salt, if needed
  5. Add ¾ cup water
  6. Bring to a boil, cover and turn flame to low
  7. Allow to braise for 5 to 8 mins
  8. Strain kale mixture, reserving liquid for another use, like soup, or to drink later. Be sure to press liquid out of kale mixture very well
  9. Add kale mixture to food processor and pulse until fine -- but not too fine!
  10. Taste and adjust seasonings
  11. Move to attractive bowl or press into small canning jar
  12. Serve warm. Base recipe can be spooned onto fresh crusty bread layered with chèvre. If you make the kale Asian-style, you can serve it with steamed buns and plum sauce, for example


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The CSA Experience: Part 4

Rainbow carrots from my CSA box

Rainbow carrots from my CSA box

In an effort to use everything that arrived in my CSA box while in its prime, today I made the rainbow carrots.  There wasn’t much to them, and I didn’t want them to get soft.
The look large in the photo above, but look at them here.

By the way, if you want to know what I did with the favas, check out the previous entry in this series.

Rainbow carrots taste like really good young orange carrots, by the way.  Serving your crew one side of rainbow carrots apiece will give them a good hit of phytonutrients in addition to the big players like Vitamin A, which the body is able to metabolize from carotenes.  Apparently each color offers a specific extra benefit.  Yellow carrots, for example, are said to contain lutein — good for your peepers.

If you want to learn massive amounts about heirloom rainbow carrots, check out this Mother Earth News story.

So what to do with the carrots?

I wanted a simple side that would allow the sweetness of the little carrots to shine, to retain a good amount of texture and nutrients, and to capitalize on their simple beauty.

To be honest with you I was pressed for time.

sauteed rainbow carrots

I trimmed, peeled, quartered or halved them lengthwise and sauteed gently in seasoned butter. I finished with a little hazelnut oil and sea salt.

They were perfect.  We all wanted more.

Rainbow Carrots with Hazelnut Oil & Sea Salt
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Rainbow carrots sauteed in seasoned butter and finished with hazelnut oil and sea salt.
Recipe type: Side
Cuisine: Vegetable
Serves: 4
  • 2 bunches (about 14) rainbow carrots, trimmed, peeled and sliced (halved or quartered, depending upon thickness)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • Pinch white pepper
  • Sea salt, as desired, for finishing
  • Toasted hazelnut oil, as desired, for finishing
  1. Heat butter and oil in a saute pan
  2. Add carrots and saute over low-medium heat for a moment
  3. Add onion powder, Kosher salt and pepper
  4. Saute until tender-crisp
  5. Remove to a serving bowl and drizzle with a little hazelnut oil and sprinkle with a little sea salt
  6. Serve warm

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The CSA Experience: Part 3

A fresh fava pod showing the beans

What it looks like inside a fresh fava pod

I never tangled with fresh favas at home.  Always bought dried.

They showed up in my CSA box last Thursday, so I had to deal, and this is the day I penciled this veg in.

I heard that they had to be not only wrestled out of their pods, which would have to be destrung prior, but also that each bean needed to be liberated from its leathery cover after blanching and an ice water bath.

I don’t think so.  No time due to a birthday and Mother’s Day.

One of my blogger friends makes fava pods in the style of edamame — the salty little soybean pods that you pop open as a snack.  She pointed me to a recipe in the San Francisco Chronicle for roasting the pods that render the skins of the beans edible, for sure, and maybe even the pod covering — if the pods are young enough.

My fava pods do not look young to me, but what the hey.  I washed and trimmed them, rubbed them with oil and salt and spread them out on a sheet pan.  Blasted them in a very hot oven, per the recipe provided.

Want to see the finished pods?

Whole roasted fava pods

My son, husband and Mother had them as a snack — with lemon wedges — while watching TV.  They ate pods and all.  A bit messy, but good.

I did not serve them with a nice chianti.

Whole Roasted Fava Pods
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Whole roasted fava pods in the style of edamame
Recipe type: Snack or side
Serves: Depends
  • Whole fava pods, washed and trimmed (and destrung, if you like)
  • Canola oil
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Pepper
  1. Arrange favas on sheet pan and add some oil
  2. Coat favas with the oil (mix with your hands)
  3. Sprinkle with salt
  4. Roast at 425 deg. F for about 25 mins -- until golden and tender
  5. Add more salt to taste
  6. Add some pepper


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