Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Blue Willow Bowls and Banana Bread

          What does a person do with doctor’s instructions to stay quiet, not exert ones self, and 6 brown bananas? 
I wondered …
After a simple visit to medical personnel for a routine blood pressure check demanded that I stay calm, stay idle, and stay home, I found myself in an atmosphere and mind set that sent me hurling into my kitchen. What could I do? Soup jumped to mind as my sick list swelled and ideas came. I could bake!
So simple an answer, I almost tripped on the way to my mixer. But to stay calm I needed an Oh- so- simplerecipe that no amount of flour sifting or egg-beating was required. Alas, upon opening my trusty recipe book I took out what is undoubtedly the easiest and best banana bread recipe that I own… I’ll call it now, Helen’s Banana Bread from my Mother-in-laws stash of Florida kitchen recipes.
Her mango bread is spectacular too and is another one for my conversion pile, when I’m better. Florida cooks suffer under tropical fruit abundances on a regular basis, so the result is great recipes for the rest of us. I’ve been fortunate to have had two mothers-in-law, and both have been great cooks and bakers. My New Hampshire mother-in law gave me an old recipe calling for Cream of Tarter that just taxed my blood-pressured mind too much –all that finding and reading label stuff, so I kept it calm by keeping it simple. I peeled on and made…
Helen’s Banana Bread
3 large ripe bananas, peeled
1 cup sugar
1 egg
4 Tbs. butter or margarine, melted and cooled
1 ½ cup flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan: set aside. In a bowl, mash bananas. You should have 1 cup. Beat in sugar, then egg and butter. Mix dry ingredients before adding to banana mixture. Stir until all flour is moistened and add in chopped nuts if using. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes. Test for done-ness; yields 1 large loaf.
With the oven on in my partially renovated kitchen, the room had warmed considerably, so I tackled my refrigerator contents. With warm banana aroma’s wafting in the sunlight, I found I was wondering what I should serve for dinner. It too had to be calming and stress free.
An old stock of broccoli and some tired leeks fought for daylight as I unearthed them from their chilly residence. Sweaters would soon be forming on those little arms attempting to hold up yellowing clusters of unopened flowers if I didn’t offer their tasty goodness to the Crock Pot.
Inspired by a damaged can of Winn Dixie TM Brand HEARTY chicken, broccoli, cheese and potato soup that I passed by in my search for vegetable stock, I settled for 2 cans of chicken broth instead.
I chopped the vegetables merrily, calming any pent-up frustrations I was experiencing in my fragile state. Then I added a teaspoon or so of chopped garlic and a good couple of shakes of Mrs. Dash TM to my pot of veggies and the 2 cans of broth. I let it cook awhile on high to soften up everything before zipping it all up in my trusty blender. Other people make wonderful milkshakes and margaritas’ in their blenders, I cream soups in mine… it is terrific.
Thinking about recent post on Face book from a niece who commented about making her first batch of soup by using a recipe to feed her two young sons, I was empowered. I reached for the can of ready made soup, a can of diced potatoes and another of chopped chicken and opened them all to add the contents to my streaming pot.
The banana bread had long since come out of the oven and was cooled by the time I’d set my pot on low and began adding 6 tiny packets of “shake-on your pizza slice” Bakers &Chefs TM Parmesan cheese from Sam’s Club I’d managed to collect. Soon I was hauling out a block of old white cheddar cheese opened this past Christmas to chop, add in and melt.
“Don’t these young people know that a hearty pot of soup is the best way to save money and use up leftovers- technically garbage to many families?” I asked aloud. “She’s feeding growing boys, after all!”
Thankful that my niece was no where near to hear me, I stirred in the cheeses and watched my soup thicken and cream as if I’d added sour cream or flour. Nothing more than a shake or two of freshly ground pepper was needed to make impressive servings for 10 or 12 people… or two growing boys.
But use a recipe? I’m still not sure personally, but I guess without a good mother who cooked or a mother-in-law to advise, a recipe is a good way to learn, so I’ll include mine here. However, my message is that improvising and personal taste is what is important. Chopping and dicing is fun and therapeutic in a nice kitchen using wonderful knives and tools. Combining what you like (after all, it came from your refrigerator... right?) with confidence to put it together to use it up, isn’t so hard! One can do it under strict doctors orders…see?
Helen’s Banana Bread calls for 1 ½ cups flour, so to convert it when well, in my future, is a given. Nut allergies of course, beware, but achieving gluten free shouldn’t be difficult. The finished bread is super-moist so that must be considered when modifying perhaps, but the simplest recipes are often the best no matter what gets substituted.
This time, it was medicinal for me to enjoy a steaming bowl of hot, homemade soup and a warm slice of Helen’s Banana Bread to calm my nerves and lower my blood pressure. Served up in my favorite Blue Willow bowls that belonged to my first and now deceased N.H. mother-in law, I found it comforting. Pretty serving pieces made any meal better.
She’d be pleased with my waste-not-want-not attempts and warmed by the good results of my tasty, frugal, experiment. Her boy was pleased too.
My HEARTY Chicken, Broccoli, Cheese and Potato Soup
1 bunch broccoli, chopped (leftover at N/C)
1 ½ leek or substitute 1 onion, chopped (leftover at N/C)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic (at $.05)
2- 14.5oz. Cans Swanson Chicken Broth (33% sodium free at $.70 each= $1.40)
1- 18.8oz. Can Winn Dixie HEARTY chicken, broccoli, cheese & potato soup, undiluted (at $1.00)
1-15oz. Can Winn Dixie diced white potatoes, UN-drained (at $.50)
1-10oz. Can Winn Dixie 100% Natural Chicken Breast in water, UN-drained (at $1.50)  
 6 packets Bakers & Chefs 100% Natural Grated Parmesan (free)
 3 oz. White Canadian Cheddar cheese (leftover at N/C)
Mrs. Dash salt free seasoning blend
Freshly Ground Pepper
Total =$4.45 divided by 10 servings=$.44 each.
Serves 10-12            Calm yourself and enjoy!

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