One of my friends gave me a recipe for ultra light banana bread. The thing is, I’m not one for substitutes (fake egg, chemical sugar substitutes, etc). I think there’s a trade off of biting the bullet for “real” ingredients over zero fat or zero sugar additives that may save you calories, but give you a nice serving of processed crap instead. I don’t want finding ingredients to be a bitch, I don’t want chemicals in there or for the flavor to leave a weird coating on my tongue. I want my food to be mostly clean, but I’m no die hard. That’s just me. And I’m an ass, so by no means do you have to agree. Point is, I’m eating this banana bread and without the egg substitute and with real sugar it’s good. It’s an absolutely fine banana bread. But I am trying to be very conscious of everything I put in my body. That banana bread didn’t give me anything. So how could I get it to give me more?
Well, for starters I added dark chocolate. Ya know, for the antioxidants or whatever the hell. I substituted some of the flour for organic protein powder, changed the sugar substitute to real sugar and reduced the amount, added a little fat for moisture, and now have a protein boosted Banana Bread/Muffin for a quick breakfast to go prior to work.
Chocolate Banana Protein Bread
1 cup + 2 TBSP whole wheat flour (or all purpose or some mix of the two, doesn’t matter)
2 scoops (1 serving) Orgain Organic Chocolate Protein Powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar (Or sugar substitute. You do you.)
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp Vanilla
1 1/2 to 2 cups smashed over-ripe bananas
2 TBSP Greek Yogurt (or light sour cream or regular sour cream or 0% greek yogurt)
1/2 cup Apple Sauce (or no sugar added applesauce)
1/4 cup Ghirardelli dark chocolate bittersweet chips
Preheat ye olde oven to 350 degrees. Take a bread pan or muffin tin (makes 8 muffins) and spray with non-stick spray. Mix everything, except the chocolate in a bowl. Seriously. Just chuck it all in at once, skip the pomp & circumstance of sifting this or blending that or creaming. Screw that. Just put everything in a bowl and mix it with a hand blender, a good spoon, or your kitchenaid mixer. Once mixed well and mostly smooth, pour the batter into your prepped bread pan. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. Bake for 40-45 minutes for bread (35-40 minutes for muffins) or until a tooth pick comes out mostly clean. I like my bread moist, a little dense. If you want yours dryer or more cake like, cook it longer.
Let cool for an hour at least. I took mine out of the oven and let it cool a good couple of hours, then I sliced it into 8 pieces, wrapped them individually, and stacked them in the fridge for a quick grab-&-go breakfast for during the week. Each slice has less than 200 calories, 3 grams of fat, and about 8 grams of protein. That’s a lot less sodium, less fat, and less calories than an Odwalla, Kind, or Clif Bar and more protein than the Kind. And CHOCOLATE! Boom.
This isn’t exactly a Christmas or New Year’s tale, but it has all the feeling and warmth of a family holiday dinner, so I choose to share it with you now.
I was once the absolute definitive example of a New York-Italian child. I grew up just outside the Big Apple with an extended family that rivaled the population of Rhode Island. My dark frizzy hair could blot out the sun and that was just what was on my head. As I lacked a Long Island (or Long Islant) accent and a plastic cover on my mother’s couch, I was just shy of a Guidette. If you’re thinking of MTV’s Jersey Shore be aware: those people are a representation of Jerseyites, not Italian Americans. As a youth, I spent an inordinate amount of time with my cousins, aunts, uncles, and Nonni and Popi. Due to the whole Catholic thing, there were a lot of family members to hang with; hundreds, maybe even millions. It was kind of like an Olive Garden commercial, only significantly less campy and far more tan.
My grandparents were from hardy stock; they came here separately from their small towns in Italy to a world they struggled to understand for the rest of their lives. My grandmother came from a teenie tiny village in which a woman who wandered the streets and spoke with the dead was revered and laundry day was a neighborhood affair in the local river. When Nonni came here, to Massachusetts specifically, she was put to work as a waitress in a family restaurant. She didn’t speak English, she liked people about as much as I do, and had left everyone she knew behind. Eventually my grandfather, who had come to America to find his fortune in New York, the unexciting stereotype, found my grandmother (I can only assume in personal ads in a 1930’s version of Craigslist) and put in a bid to marry her. When I asked Nonni about romance when I was a nosy teenager she looked at me in this “stupid American” sort of way and grunted a “Yeah”…or it could have been “nah”. I could never really decipher her grunts. When I asked my mother or aunts and uncles about it, they thought for a moment and then nodded slowly:
“Sure, there must have been some kind of romance. Pop would drive all the way from New York to Mass to see her in a time when cars maxed out at, like, forty miles per hour.”
“Really?”, I beamed. “He’d drive all the way to see her? How often?”
“Like… twice,” Pop replied. I don’t think he was kidding.
Nonni and Pop bought this big old, drab farmhouse, as intimidating and large as an old Victorian with none of the flare, built in 1905. Sure, a passerby might say it was painted white, but I’m sure my grandparents never even considered the color. It was as if the house could have been a vibrant rainbow of light and excitement from the color spectrum, but as soon as my super focused, hardworking grandparents moved in, the house suddenly had no time for the nonsense of color. The upstairs consisted of three bedrooms, one bathroom, a sitting room, small kitchen, and an undersized dining/living area for a family of seven. It was set up like a glorified shotgun or railcar apartment: long and narrow, with all its rooms off an even narrower hallway. The house was separated into two apartments by previous owners in the 1930’s, one upstairs and one downstairs. The downstairs apartment had been restructured and updated so many times that it was unrecognizable from its upstairs counterpart. To add excitement to the downstairs apartment, I will also add that a lady died in it. But I was also conceived in it, so, based on the properties of Algebra, any ghosts get cancelled out. When I was old enough to rent that space, I would have friends over and bring them traipsing through my grandparents home upstairs because the difference was like stepping back in time. My grandfather preferred it that way, right up until his passing at 97 years old this past summer. He died almost a year to the day my grandmother died. And he planned it that way.
Photo credit Joey Tarzia
By the time I was old enough to have memory Pop had gotten rid of the pool in the backyard and had turned the chlorine sodden ground into a garden. This was in Stamford, Connecticut, mind you. The suburb-turned-city just outside of New York City. He was as apt to find squirrels in his garden as beer cans and lord knows what other kind of trash. It wasn’t a farm; it was a lot not a half mile from the center of a very bustling and cramped metropolis. The house was on Cold Spring Road, which, by the time I was born, was four lanes wide with a median divider and a speed limit of 45 miles per hour, but you’d think it was Mach ten. There was a big old garage in back of the house that looked like it would collapse at any moment and dry salami hanging from its ceiling pretty much all the time. Lots of spiders, rusted tools, jars with nails and twine, and a big, blue Cadillac.
My grandfather’s success was due to the fact that he owned a liquor store. The Package Store. Kind of like calling the local market the Milk and Fruit House. One day my grandmother was working, leaning on the bar with her arms folded. In walked a man who took out a knife and stuck it straight through the meaty part of her forearm, right down to the wooden counter. And then obbed the joint. That was before I was born. I guess that’s learning the hard way that your family shop has become part of the bad neighborhood.
The issues that really killed me about my grandparents moving to America were the little things, the traditions they viewed as necessities that they didn’t drop, but were no longer really needed. For example, my grandfather would eat anything he caught, which was all fine and good for the wilds and majestic beauty of Italy, but that didn’t change when he moved to Stamford. It didn’t matter if it was a gopher with two tails and a nervous twitch from heroin withdrawal: if Pop found it in the garden it was dinner. As kids we had all seen him kill animals. And the killing wasn’t ever in a cruel or lustful manner… though I distinctly remember him holding a vendetta toward the same rabbit was eating his garden, because he didn’t see it as eating for survival, but just to piss him off. It was with a morbid, but entirely childlike curiosity that I watched him step on the back of a lettuce-eating groundhog and drive a shovel into the back of its neck. More humane I suppose then the drowning pool (a 50 gallon drum he kept at the garden gate) and less buckshot then a gun. In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing my grandfather with a gun, as he seemed more of a finder-feeder then hunter. He acted this way because that’s what he was taught, it’s what it father did, and his own grandfather. He wasn’t wasteful, he wasn’t cruel, and he loved providing for his family more than he loved the sun.
When the family swelled and grandchildren (my cousins) started popping out left and right, Nonni insisted on having Sunday dinner at their place. It was Nonni, Pop, their five kids and their children’s children, so this cramped dining area for seven miraculously became a table for twenty. Catholics, man. My family was the original Anthony Bordain or Andrew Zimmern, trying exotic foods as character building exercises and larks. Most people have words of wisdom in their heads from their childhood. I merely have the all too constant comment “Eat that. It’ll put hair on your chest.” Delightful.
Every Sunday the same meal: really good homemade bread, home made meat sauce over pasta, ending with salad, fruit, and poker. And the meat was always beef or pork. Always. I was the youngest child of the youngest child and quite possibly the most annoying. Be that as it may, my older cousins and brother were not above using my youthful cuteness as scapegoat extraordinaire. If it’s one thing you learn even before puberty, it’s that youth is fleeting, and younger means cuter and more valuable. That’s why manipulation is one of the first things, almost instinctively, that children seem to catch on to.
Photo credit Joey Tarzia
One Sunday we were all there, huddled around the table, food in bowls and baskets and any other vessel that could be found, mismatched silverware chucked on the table along with glasses, jugs of wine and plates, more limbs and voices then there seemed people on the earth. Somewhere in the house a Yankees game was on, the noise and clamor of twenty people and children akin only to the Whos down in Whoville on Christmas day. Dinner was called and you never had so many people find seats so fast. Spaghetti and sauce got doled out, bread slices were grabbed and we dug in with gusto, the same meal we’d all had a hundred times and never tired of!…except this time something was different.
Something was wrong.
My cousins’ gulping and chewing began to slow as they stared into their plates and bowls, their eyes relaying all our thoughts in unison: Ewwwww. I got nudged by my older brother who is sitting next to our older cousin Cristina, sitting next to older Cathy and even older still Paul.
“You have to tell Mom this is gross.”
They were all looking at me. I gulped, not from food intake, but from fear. To talk ill of Nonni’s food was to be banished or, worse, yelled at. I looked at my mother chewing; I couldn’t tell if she knew. Had she realized something isn’t right? Was she continuing eating only because the sudden dip in food meant her own mother had lost it and she was coming to terms with the demise of the family? Had Nonni gotten so senile that she’s dropped boogers and fingernails into our food? What was happening?!?
“Mom, I don’t like dinner.”
“Katie, you do this all the time. Eat it.”
To be fair, I did not, do this all the time.
“Mom, it tastes funny.”
“Katie, it tastes exactly like it always does! Look, your cousins are eating it!”
I turned to see them beaming at my mother and nodding as if to say ‘Yeah, we have no idea what she’s talking about, and we would never throw her to the wolves.’
My grandmother never sat during these meals. She was forever bringing us water and more food and filling empty plates, the usual Nonni stuff. It was at this time that she brought in the giant sauce pot. I mean, huge. Le Crueset had nothing on this thing. She stood with it, teetering on the corner of the tabletop next to my grandfather, who was sitting in his usual Italian dinner jacket, at the head of the table.
“Do ya wanit now?” Nonni asked Pop.
“No, no! I have enough. Just leave it there!” Pop answered, food bulging from inside his cheek, as he motioned a fist full of bread toward a small empty bowl in front of him.
“Okay,” Nonni replied. She then proceeded to draw a ladle from the pot containing the biggest meatball I had ever seen.
Only it wasn’t a meatball. Though it was an entirely new sight to me, I knew instantly what it was:
There, hairless and cocked slightly in the spoon, staring eyeless right down the table, its lips peeled back and teeth gleaming through drips and globs of tomato and basil, was the head of a rabbit, its face meat and brain cooked ever so slowly out into our pasta sauce.
Plunk! Into Pop’s bowl. Much like being in a car accident, I only remember forks hitting porcelain plates then silence, a dull hum, everything in slow motion and everyone forgetting that exhibiting shock at dinner is breaking table manners.
My smart ass cousin Joey broke the silence with a nervous chuckle.
“Pop, what is that, raccoon?”
“No,” groaned Pop. “The raccoon’s ova there,” he said this still chewing, not joking, fist apathetically waved, roughly pointed to the bowl of meatballs.
This second wave of shock and nausea was shattered only by my mother, who leaned over and gasped “You’re excused!” At least I think that’s what she said. My memory is determined to tell me she turned to us children and screamed “RUN!”, but I simply don’t think that can be true.
But I do remember quite clearly the Hershey bars we were given for dinner in lieu of Nonni’s cooking that night.
And to this day I just don’t really like Hershey bars.
I wanted something special for holiday dessert this year, but I am not normally a treat maker. I often have prewrapped chocolate in my house, a box of Skinny Cows, or, if I’m really feeling an indulgent dessert, I’ll make cookies, but it pretty much stops there. I tried twice in my life to make pies and both ended terribly: At high altitude I couldn’t get my apples to cook after being in the oven for two hours, and on a torrential downpour day, my pecan pie came out as mere ice cream topping rather than anything even close to solid.
So, naturally, I choose Christmas Eve when I’m hosting guests to try an intermediate level recipe I’ve never tried before. No practice, no nothing. If it didn’t work out, we’d be having Rolos for dessert.
I have to admit, I’m not super clear on the whole rating the level of difficulty in a recipe thing. I mean, you follow the directions. Tweak it if you’re gutsy. There’s either less directions or more directions and all you have to do is follow them. Really, I think recipes should just be based on time, such as less time or a crap ton of time. Because you’re supposed to refrigerate a cheesecake for a while, this would get a Crap Ton Of Time rating.
This is more of a chocolate mousse cheesecake; it has cottage cheese in it. That’s not the norm, no, but I hate eating a slice of cheesecake and then immediately feeling like I’m about to have a baby because I’m so full and fatty-fat fatfat. And this one comes out sweet, but not sugary, fluffy, but very cheesecake-creamy. Amazing with coffee. And I realized the the problem with lighter cheesecake is it’s hard to stop after one piece…
I think I had consumed so much food at this point that I was lying on the floor, but, like a champ, this didn’t deter me from another slice.
Like all good cheesecakes, this one begins with water. I preheated my oven to 325 and placed a roasting pan filled with about 2 inches of water on the second to last rack level. I went out (prior to heating my oven), bought a spring-form pan, took it apart, played with it, struggled to put it back together (I’m no winner), and then coated the inside with cooking spray. I also wrapped the outside bottom edge in aluminum foil to stop any of our cheesecake filling from leaking out.
Next came the crust:
1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs, about 10 full sheets. (The recipe called for chocolate graham cracker crumbs, but I wasn’t on the ball or paying close enough attention to the recipe when I went shopping.)
2 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp water
2 1/2 tbsp melted unsalted butter
Crushing the graham crackers is a great task for kids to do. Or, if you harbor any ill will toward mankind, it’s a great way to work that angst out, as well. In my case I improvised a giant pestle and mortar and worked out regular holiday tension.
Wine bottles: Not just for Boozing it up any more. They make good rolling pins & great pestles.
I mixed everything together until moist and pressed it into the bottom of the spring-form pan. The recipe then called for the crust to be frozen for 15 minutes, and who am I to argue? I was doing this while watching Ancient Aliens on Netflix anyway, so it’s not like I didn’t have other things going on.
Next was the filling:
2/3 cups Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips. The recipe called for 2 ounces of semisweet chocolate, but I like bittersweet and who the hell knows what the measurement of an ounce of chocolate is? (I do. It’s about 1/3 cup to every ounce.)
24 oz container of cottage cheese.
8 oz room temperature cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
I’m starting to get bored now. Someone put on the Never Ending Story.
2 tbsp flour
2 egg whites
2 tsp instant espresso powder (Don’t skip this. Use decaf if you’d prefer, but this really intensifies the chocolate.)
2 1/2 tsp vanilla (I like things extra vanilla-y)
I pureed the cottage cheese with an immersion hand blender. I then poured it into a kitchen aid mixer so that could do the rest of the blending for me. Often you can use a food processor to really make your cheesecake SUPER smooth. I am neither smooth nor the owner of a food processor, so I used a stand mixer. To the cottage cheese I added the cream cheese and then all the dry stuff. Once that was blended smooth, I added the egg & whites, the vanilla, melted the chocolate in the microwave and added that, too.
I poured the mixture onto the crust in the pan and into the oven it went (with the roasting pan of water still in there) on the upper third rack and baked it about 50 minutes, until the center jiggled like my gut. Then I let it sit in the oven for an additional hour with the heat turned off.
After that time I plated the cake and poured a ganache over the top.
Super simple Ganache topping:
1/2 cup semisweet Ghiradelli chips. Yes, I used semi-sweet instead of bittersweet for the ganache and there is a difference.
3 tbsp unsalted butter
Microwave the butter and chocolate together until melted and smooth. Pour over cheesecake. Viola.
After I let cool at room temperature for an additional hour, I put the cheesecake into the fridge. The final step, according to the original recipe, which I’d long since ditched, was to refrigerate for 8 hours or over night so it could really setup.
I let it chill for about 7 hours before it was time to dig in and it was great; no need for the 8+ hours. When plating I topped it with beautiful, sweet fresh raspberries and a dusting of powered sugar. I plan on having a left over slice for breakfast.