Honey Flax Banana Bread

Honey Flax Banana Bread

This was our first baking endeavour in our new kitchen with our new oven.  Besides the fact that I had missed baking, I needed to bake something to bring to our first ever dinner party in UAE…and as a family.  If you’ve never been to a dinner party with 6 kids before, you should try it.  It’s actually quite a lot of fun.  There were also chickens, cats and yes parents, too but that’s all for another post.  (Can you guess where I’ll be getting my free-range, organic eggs from?)

So, I HAD to bake something and since I’ve been working on versions of this banana bread for years now, it has become my default recipe to gift.  The only hiccup was that I could not find vanilla extract anywhere in this country.  When I commented on this seemingly odd fact, my husband reminded me that it’s because of the alcohol content.  So, no vanilla extract but loads of “vanilla flavor”…nein danke.  (If you think you’ll be seeing a recipe for homemade vanilla extract soon, you know me all too well:)

Regardless, the banana bread emerged smelling promising.  I increased the cinnamon to compensate a bit for flavor and did the same with the honey instead of using maple syrup or agave.  The result was, well let’s just say there was a lot of silence and not a crumb to be found.  This is music to any cook’s ears!

Honey is an incredible sweetener.  And, it has an incredible story.  Bees feast on flowers and carry the nectar from their feast in their mouths to the hive.  The nectar mixes with the bees’ saliva, which has special enzymes to turn it into honey.  The flutter of the busy bees’ wings provides enough air to keep the honey from collecting too much moisture, making it just perfect for us to consume!  Read more about it here.

The enzymes are why raw honey is superior to other pasteurized and processed honeys.  Honey in its raw state is chock full of anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.  It also has anti-inflammatory properties which should be ringing all kinds of bells as far as health is concerned!  (Remember, inflammation is often the root cause of MANY, MANY oft preventable illnesses.)  And, in case you were wondering, yes, there are anti-oxidants in there, too.  In ancient Egypt, honey was used to dress wounds and more recently, Manuka Honey especially is still being used as an effective treatment for burns.  Honey has a low Glycemic Index which means that the sugars enter the bloodstream slowly and steadily allowing the body time to deal with processing it.  This makes it a much healthier sweetener and one suitable for diabetics…in moderation!

It’s also a great sweetener for kids.  (Just be aware that it is advised that honey not be given to babies under one year of age.)  It’s sweet without that artificial-tasting sweet.  Trust me, it makes a difference!

You’ll need:

1 C spelt flour

1/2 C oat flour

1/4 Ground Flax Seeds

1 T cinnamon

2 t baking powder

1/4 t baking soda

1/2 t sea salt

3 very ripe bananas

1/2 C raw honey (if you have it:)

2 large organic eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 C unrefined extra-virgin coconut oil or melted unsalted butter (organic &/or pastured if you have it:)

1/2 C chopped walnuts (optional)

To make:

1. Preheat oven to 350 and line a 8.5″X4.5″ bread loaf pan with parchment paper. (I made 3 smaller ones, but this recipe will make one nice sized loaf.)

2. Mix all dry ingredients thoroughly.

3. In a medium bowl, mash bananas well, add honey and stir to combine.  Let sit for a few minutes before adding the eggs and oil (butter).  Then combine all well.

4. Make a well in the center of flour mixture and add wet mixture.  Stir to combine but don’t over mix.

5. Add mixture to loaf pan and top with walnuts.

6. Bake in oven for 45-50 minutes or until top and edges are golden brown.  It’s a good idea to turn the bread around midway through baking time for a more evenly baked and moist loaf.

7. Enjoy!

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Healing Potage with Parsley and Basil

Serves 4 as a meal or 6 as appetizer=)

Parsley-Basil Drizzle and Coconut Milk drizzled on potage.

As the title suggests, this potage is trés healing and last week, it was just what I needed to help me kick a cold that caught me by surprise.  With all the festivities; the cooking and eating, the drinking, snacking, socializing, the shopping, decorating and wrapping, we forget that it’s a common time to come down with colds and other unwanted ills.  There’s a lot going on and our bodies and our minds get run down eventually needing a break from all the fun.

When I’m feeling under the weather, the first thing I think of is soup to help get me on the path to better health.  Soup is love in a bowl, so it’s a good place to start.

I first encountered this (adapted) recipe in a Vegetarian Times issue some years ago.  Apparently, potage, a thick, creamy soup traditionally consisting of leeks, carrots and potato, is often served at meals in French hospitals.  That’s a far cry from what we see in most hospitals here.  It’s a very simple soup and quite unassuming considering its power in the healing department.  But, it’s often in simplicity that we find the greatest gifts.  There are several gifts that make this soup so healing.

In a nutshell:

Leek– Excellent source of carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin which provide the body with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant protection.  Leeks also support movement, meaning if you are feeling stuck, physically, emotionally or mentally, you’d be wise to add these to your diet.  “They subtly tonify and support energy movement.”¹ I love Traditional Chinese Medicine interpretations of food.

Garlic– A member of the allium family that is anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral.  Need I say more?  Ok, ok, one more thing-it helps eliminate toxins from the body.

Carrot– Beta-carotene is the most researched carotenoid and for good reason.  It’s an antioxidant that kicks a**!  It’s also anti-carcinogenic, anti-aging, and enhances immunity.  Yes, you should be eating more carrots.

Potato– Eaten in moderation, potatoes reduce inflammation and neutralize body acids.  They also boast a good amount of Vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins.

Thyme– Thyme enjoys a long history of being used naturally in medicine to treat problems with cough, congestion, bronchitis, etc.²  The volatile oils of thyme contain enough anti-oxidants and anti-microbial properties to round out an already super-hero potage!

I thought I’d sneak this recipe in just before the fun December recipes appear, just in case.  And, you might want to re-visit Trick for Treat, too.  It’s never too late to build some credit for your body!  In case you found yourself in the red however, keep coming back to this soup.  It will always clear the way for you to start feeling better, fast!

*Note – I borrowed Rebecca Katz’s, Parsley Basil Drizzle to jazz it up a bit and boy did it ever!

You’ll need:

2-3 T extra-virgin olive oil

1 large leek, white and pale green parts, sliced (about 3 heaping cups)

1/4 C dry white wine

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 small fennel bulb, diced

5 medium-large carrots, sliced

1-2 small yukon potatoes, diced

5 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 small bay leaves

6-7 C water or vegetable stock (or water with a vegetable bouillon would do fine, too)

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

To make:

1.  Heat the oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Add the leek and a healthy pinch of salt and cook for about 8 minutes until the leeks are tender.  When tender, add the garlic and fennel and cook for 3-4 more minutes before adding the wine.  Cook everything together until most of the wine has evaporated.

2.  Add the carrots, potato, thyme and bay leaves and about 1/2 C of the water/stock.  Cook together until it’s mostly evaporated.  Add the rest of the water/stock and bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium and cook for 30 minutes, partially covered, or until the vegetables are tender but not mushy.

3.  Turn off the heat, cover completely and let sit for about 10-15 minutes.  Something magical happens in this time of waiting.

4.  Using a 1C ladle, ladle the soup into a blender keeping liquid and veggies about equal.  Blend until smooth (being sure to hold down the lid with a hand towel).  Pour creamy soup into another sauce pan.  Repeat the process until done.

5.  Bring the creamy potage to a simmer over low heat, if necessary.  Stir in the lemon juice and adjust for salt and pepper.

6.  Serve just as is or with Parsley-Basil Drizzle (see below)

7.  Enjoy and feel better!

Parsley-Basil Drizzle (as deliciously written per Rebecca Katz)

1/4 C tightly packed fresh basil leaves

1/2 C tightly packed fresh flat-leat parsley leaves

2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 T water

1/4 t sea salt

1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients except oil in a blender or food processor and process until finely chopped.  Slowly pour in the olive oil (with motor running, if possible) and process until smooth.  Adjust for salt or olive oil or lemon.  Drizzle over soup and Enjoy!

¹Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

² http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=77

Garlic Confit

Makes 1 C

The very word confit conjures images of haute food, ultra gourmet, inaccessible restaurants, maybe even a dress code?  It does sound fancy but it’s often the simplest things that are the most prized.  I guarantee you will climb a few ranks as a gourmand with this confit sitting in your fridge.  I also guarantee that once you try it, you’ll find it makes a great staple, too.  Don’t be surprised if you’re making batches of this weekly and/or giving some away.  There’s something about sharing something delicious.  It’s like sharing joy.

Confit is the fancy way of saying ‘cooked for a long time, submerged in broth or fat, for flavor and preservation’.  Back in the good ol’ days before refrigeration, people had to get creative about preserving food.  (This is really interesting to study as different parts of the world used different methods best suited to their environment.  Thank goodness because the flavors are bold and the nutrients multiplied!)  Confit originated in Southern France and was a way to preserve meat.  Do yourself a favor and try duck confit.  (Remember I was vegetarian for nearly a decade, so such recommendations don’t come lightly!)

Garlic.  Oh Garlic.  It’s got a smelly reputation that apparently repels vamps.  That’s not all this member of the allium family is capable of.  Here’s the rundown:  Garlic is anti-carcinogenic (especially good for colon cancer), anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal.  It is amazing in reducing blood pressure. (Click here for a great explanation on the contraction and dilation of blood vessels explaining blood pressure.)  It is also a blood sugar and cholesterol regulator.  It reduces fever and helps combat colds and flus.  Have you ever tried garlic lemonade?  It’s a great home remedy to add to your repertoire.  (Recipe coming soon via my sister.)  Garlic is great at eliminating toxins from the body.  For some, it is considered an aphrodisiac and therefore verboten in the diet for Buddhist monks as well as strict followers of Hinduism.  That’s a lot range for a little bulb.  That explains why it’s used universally as seasoning and as a home remedy…pretty much since the beginning of time!

So, what to do with all that confit you’re cooking up?  It’s great to season soups, vegetables and meat.  It makes a great addition to marinades and salad dressings.  And, it’s great alone, smeared on a crispy piece of country bread.  Yum!

You’ll need:

2 heads garlic (roughly about 1 C), cloves separated

1 C (approx) extra virgin olive oil

+ water and ice for blanching and shocking

To make:

1. Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil.  In the meantime, fill a bowl with water and add 2 C of ice.  Blanch the garlic – Add the cloves to the boiling water and let stay for 30 seconds.  Promptly remove cloves from boiling water.  Shock the garlic – add it to the ice water.

2. Peel the skins off the garlic and trim off the root ends.  Let cloves dry in a clean kitchen towel.  (I also cut the fatter cloves in half for evenness in cooking.)

3. When dry, add the cloves to a saucepan and add the oil.  The oil should fully cover the garlic.

4. Heat over low-medium heat until small bubbles start to form and then reduce heat to low.  Skim any skins that come to the surface and stir the cloves so that they cook evenly.  Your confit is done when the gloves are a golden color and look soft.  It should take about 40 mins.  Let cool in saucepan before adding to jar.

5. Store in an air-tight container for 7-10 days.  Don’t forget to use the oil, too!  You’ve worked hard at it!

6. Enjoy!

Curry Chicken Salad

Serves 4

Adapted from The Cancer Fighting Kitchen

My husband’s current obsession, besides our daughter’s belly laugh, is curry.  He seems to be leaning more towards the Thai curries but he’s happy with any curry really.  Curry is a mystery.  And that’s just because it means so many things to so many people in so many places.  Even in Japan, a common lunch was curry rice which I always thought surprising since curry isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Japanese cuisine.

There is the curry leaf, which until recently I didn’t even know existed.  My mother-in-law planted it one year and the strong aroma quickly took over her herb garden.  It is used quite commonly in India and imparts a distinct curry taste, the original I guess!  The more well known is curry powder; a blend of varying spices that mimic the flavor of the curry leaf.  Curries are unique to each family and region, much like German towns each have their own delicious microbrew.  It’s one of the more amazing things about food.  A dash of this here and a bit of that there and you’ve got a completely new dish.  It’s beautiful and it keeps us and our tastebuds always wanting more.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the role of Ayurveda in this spice.  Ayurveda is a traditional medicine practiced in India for over 5,000 years.  It recognizes 6 tastes; sweet, salty, sour, astringent, pungent and bitter and they’re all found in curry powder.  Under Ayurvedic principles, eating all 6 flavors in one meal is both balancing and satiating.  If you feel balanced after a meal, you’re not likely to go searching for dessert (sweet) or any other flavor.  You’ll feel completely satisfied.  If you haven’t enjoyed an Ayurvedic meal, I highly recommend it, if only for the experience and then you can decide for yourself.

The superstar in curry is turmeric and I’m glad to finally get to write about this spice.  Turmeric is pretty ridiculous when it comes to its anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial powers.  Turmeric is used to heal many conditions, one of which is cancer.  According to Rebecca Katz in The Cancer Fighting Kitchen, when eaten with a cruciferous veg (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, etc.) the curcumin present in turmeric has been shown to reduce the growth of prostate tumors as well as to keep tumors from spreading to other parts of the body.  It is used to heal wounds and is good for conditions such as arthritis.  It’s also a wonderful digestive aid.  And, it’s one of the highest known sources of beta-carotene.  Move over carrots!  Or better yet, sprinkle some of this spice on some roasted carrots!  Hmmm, sounds like another dish in the making.

You’ll need:

1 lb roasted chicken (I used legs and thighs), shredded

1 C seedless red grapes, halved

1 stalk celery, sliced

2 scallions, thinly sliced

1/2 C cilantro, chopped

2 t fresh ginger, grated

1/2 t sea salt (or more to taste)

1 T curry powder

1 t lemon zest + 1 t fresh squeezed lemon juice

6 oz. Greek yogurt

To make:

1. Combine the chicken and the grapes and set aside.

2. Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.  Add chicken and grapes and mix well until chicken is thoroughly dressed.  Let it sit for 15 minutes in the fridge to let the flavors mingle and blend:)

3. Serve over a crisp bed of greens such as romaine lettuce or stuffed into pita bread:)

4. Enjoy!

*Vegetarian option: Substituting extra-firm tofu for the chicken is a great vegetarian option.  I would cook the tofu as in this recipe, for a bit more added flavor, crunch and aesthetic, but it’s definitely not necessary.  Enjoy!