recipe showdown: healthy banana bread

This sh!t is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S.  Thank you Gwen Stefani.

Whenever I hear Gwen, I am instantly transported back to 4th grade when I went to a very strict religious school.  I still vividly remember the first day of school — I got dressed in my rumpled white chapel dress, and penny loafers.  When I saw the huge chapel on that cloudy morning, all I could say was “this looks just like Harry Potter.”  While sitting in the pews, I turned to the girl next to me and asked jokingly, “when will we get sorted” in a little British accent.  I don’t think the girl appreciated my humor. 🙁

That was a tough year for me — no nail polish, no boys, and tons of homework.  One of the only things that got me through that year was a jazz dance class that I took on Friday nights.  I got to wear my bedazzled gaucho pants and dance to Gwen Stefani and the Black Eyed Peas.  Afterwards, my mom would take me to Quiznos and I would get a toasted sub with salami and pepperoni — nothing else.  Those Friday nights were the moments of joy that got me through an otherwise difficult year.

Now, whenever I hear Gwen, it takes me back to those happy Friday nights.  It always amazes me how powerful music can be to transport me back to different times. 

Whenever I hear “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers, I am transported to the back seat of the white van that I rode around Santa Fe in this past summer on my community service trip.  When I hear “Everyday” by Buddy Holly, I am sitting in the car seat of my dad’s old green Honda, which I used to call the “pickle car.”  Thanks to these songs and artists, these memories will always be a click away on my iPod.

Now to the banana bread.  I love a super moist, cake-like banana breads as much as the next girl (especially when they’re full of toffee bits ), but at 8 A.M, I don’t want to be too naughty… at least on a weekday ;).  The web is overflowing with healthy banana bread recipes — full of applesauce, whole wheat flour, and even flax and chia seeds!  I was intrigued. Could they be as yummy as my banoffee bread? Sounds like a recipe showdown. 

Just F.Y.I, these are all “normal” healthy banana breads. I.e. you don’t need to run to the heath food store in search of spelt Flour or Agar gel — these are just classic banana breads lightened up. 

The overall favorite was the banana bread from Just Everyday Me
it had the most bananas of the three recipes, which gave it a really
rich banana flavor.  Also, the addition of whole wheat flour adds a nice
dark depth to this loaf.  It would give even the most decadent loaf a run for its money — plus it’s kind of good for you, so you can have an extra slice (or two).

With love,
Erica

Description
This recipe boasts 286 five star ratings on All
Recipes.  It uses applesauce, nonfat
milk, and a tablespoon of vegetable oil instead of butter, and only has 2/3
cup sugar.  There are 178 calories per
slice.
This recipe has received great reviews all over the
internet.  It uses ¼ cup butter and 1/3
cup lowfat yogurt.  There are 187
calories per slice.
This recipe uses ¼ cup butter, ¼ cup apple sauce, and a
few spoonfuls of sour cream. It also incorporates whole wheat flour into the
white flour for added health benefits. 
There are about 190 calories per slice
Tasters’ notes
Good
Banana-y
Too much vanilla!
Gummy
Bland
Sweet
Banana-y
No strange aftertaste

From Just Everyday Me

Ingredients:

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (not packed)
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1 egg
4 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 whole over-ripe bananas, blended so that they’re liquid

Cream togetherthe first 6 ingredients.
Slowly add the flours and then the baking soda and salt. Add the blended bananas.
Put in a greased bread loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes.
© Cannella Vita. All images & content are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without my permission/linking back to Cannella Vita. If you want to republish this recipe, please link back to this post.

recipe showdown: belgian waffles

It's humiliating.  It's tragic.  It's the decay of Western civilization.
... and I can't stop watching it.

Ever since I heard that little, blond, 4-foot-tall toddler's famous catchphrase"a dollar makes me holler honey boo boo," I've been in love.
She's hyperactive, uninhibited, and foul-mouthed... and I'm kind of obsessed.

But since this is technically a food blog, I should be talking about food, not the "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo."  I did a little research and the Honey Boo Boo clan has some *pretty* interesting dishes.
Have you ever heard of "Sketti"?
Spaghetti, doused with a sauce that is one part margarine, one part ketchup.
However, the most infamous Honey Boo Boo specialty is her "go go juice" -- a secret mix of Mountain Dew and Red Bull that gets her "go go"-ing for her pageants.  If you aren't familiar with "go go juice," click here.  Thank me later.

Anyways, I have my own version of "go go juice."  It's not quite Mountain Dew mixed with Red Bull, but it sure gets me going.  It's my secret weapon that gets me through 6-hour indoor track meets.

Truth is, nothing gets me going like Belgian waffles. 
I could run my little heart out for hours after one of those babies.
This morning was the last meet of the winter season, so obviously Belgian waffles were on the menu.  Since they're my secret weapon, they had to be perfect this time.

What am I looking for in a Belgian waffle?  Something so crispy that you can hear the fork break the crust, yet so tender that the inside is pillowy like cotton candy.  Something that can soak up maple syrup and melty butter while still holding its waffle-y shape.

After comparing a series of very popular and wildly different recipes, I think I found the one.  Aretha Frankensteins' (what a name!) Waffle's of Insane Greatness were spot on. What's your "go go juice"? With love,
Erica
Description
These waffles have a very thick and rich batter that is scooped not poured into the iron.  It has a dense, buttery crumb and the consistency of a light, buttery shortbread cookie.
These waffles are famous in the food blogging community, known simply as “WIG.”  The light batter uses vegetable oil and cornstarch.
Simple, pancake-like batter, with the addition of a whipped egg white.  I used sour cream thinned with ¼ cup milk instead of the buttermilk (which was one of the suggested substitutions). As the title suggests, these are very rich waffles.
A way to modify Bisquick waffle mix in a way that comes “very close to mom’s homemade waffles”
Tasters’ Notes
Very cookie-like
Sugary
Not “fluffy” waffles
Dense
Doesn’t even need syrup
Shortbread
Dessert
Light and airy
Mind-bogglingly crisp exterior
Unique
Toasty
Caramelized
Eggy
Rich
A bit chewy
Soft
soggy?
Traditional
Expected
Not special
Conclusion
More of a cookie than a waffle. Nevertheless, these were delicious. These are perfect for dessert, with syrup and maybe some ice cream
They are curiously light and fluffy on the inside, and have a shatteringly crisp crust. They are also the easiest (come together in one bowl, and no nonsense with egg whites)
These were very soft. They were rich, but had no crunch. Still, they were tasty and tangy, just not, the waffle.
These are tasty if you’re in a rush. But nothing beats homemade, and these aren’t anything special.

Aretha Frankenstein's Waffles of Insane Greatness From Aretha Frankenstein's restaurant in Chattanooga, TN. Ingredients 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk or buttermilk (or a combination)
1/3 cup vegetable oil or melted butter
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Butter and pure maple syrup, for serving In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; mix well. Add the milk, vegetable oil, egg, sugar and vanilla and mix well. Let the batter sit for 30 minutes. Heat a waffle iron. Follow the directions on your waffle iron to cook the waffles. Serve immediately with butter and pure maple syrup or hold in a 200 degree oven, directly on the rack (don't stack them or they'll get soggy). These also reheat very well in the toaster.

© Cannella Vita. All images & content are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without my permission/linking back to Cannella Vita. If you want to republish this recipe, please link back to this post.

recipe showdown: blueberry muffins

It’s been way too long since I’ve done a Recipe Showdown.  My last showdown was “Sweet Potato Casserole.”  That was before Thanksgiving.  Santa has come, we have rung in the new year, I’ve finished exams… heck, it’s almost Valentine’s day.  
 
For the past four months, the most prominent thing on my blogging to-do list has been “DO A RECIPE SHOWDOWN” (the second most prominent thing is my attempt at drawing a croquembouche… but that’s beside the point).  
What’s been getting in the way?

To tell you the truth, Recipe Showdowns are hard. 

First, I have to scour the Internet for the best recipes out there, making sure they’re each a bit different to make the tests interesting.  
Second, I have to halve each recipe so I don’t end up with 10,000 muffins in my house (being the OCD little math geek that I am, this takes a while…)
Third, I have to buy all the ingredients, battling my way through the supermarket in search of “Cream of Tartar,” and other funky ingredients.
Fourth, I have to bake them all. (coordinating oven times, oven temps, my stand mixer, and my sanity is quite an ordeal). 
By this time all I want to do is drown my sorrows for a few hours on Pinterest.  But the Showdown is not even halfway done.
I still have to conduct tests.
Do I seriously want to conduct tests?  Ain’t nobody got time for that! By this time, I JUST WANT A DAMN MUFFIN. 
But alas, I conducted tests. On my parents, on my friends, even on a few random freshman… and I found the supreme blueberry muffin recipe. Oh, the sacrifices I make for you guys.
Once I sunk my teeth into the soft, pillowy, sugar-crusted, blueberry-studded muffin of my dreams, I  realized why the painstaking process that is Recipe Showdown is so worth it.  I also realized that the big, blueberry juice stain on my Lululemon yoga pants was so worth it.  It’s like a battle scar. A mark of honor. 
Lastly, I realized I should really drag my butt off Pinterest more often and do more Recipe Showdowns. 
With love, 
Erica


The Facts:
Almost biscuit-like,  these muffins have a super thick, almost cookie dough-like batter, which keeps the blueberries afloat and evenly distributed. 
These are light and fluffy, moistened with vegetable oil and a touch of sour cream.  They are topped off with a light crumb topping and a sprinkling of sparkly raw sugar.
These have the magical addition of brown butter in them (you all know how much I love brown butter!).  There is no sour cream in the batter. These muffins are topped off with a chunky streusel.
Tasters’ notes:
A bit dry and biscuit like...
Very crumbly
For all of the butter and sour cream, you would think that these would be lighter and less dense.
LOVE the raw sugar crust
Light and fluffy
Pretty
Very moist
Don't miss the butter at all!
Sweet
Love the brown butter taste!
A bit cake-like
Dense
Crumbly
Verdict:
My dad liked these the best (he said the others were too sweet, and he loves biscuits).  However, this was definitely not the conventional favorite.
THE SUPREME BLUEBERRY MUFFIN!
Brown butter is delicious, and it is definitely a close second, but the dense, crumbly consistency wasn't up to par with Cooking Classy.

The Supreme Blueberry Muffin
From Cooking Classy
Yield: 14 muffins
Ingredients
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
7 Tbsp vegetable oil* (the easiest way to measure: measure 1/2 cup remove 1 Tbsp)
1 large egg
2 Tbsp sour cream
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp chilled butter, diced
1 1/2 Tbsp Raw Sugar
Prepare crumb topping by combining 1/3 cup flour, 1 1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar and 2 1/2 Tbsp butter in a food processor. Pulse just a few seconds until combine, it should be very fluffy (if you pulse it too much it will become dense). Pour crumb mixture into a small bowl and whisk in 1 1/2 Tbsp raw sugar (please do not leave this ingredient out, it's the crowning jewel of these muffins, it's a MUST), set aside.
In a mixing bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, set aside. In a seperate mixing bowl, using a wire hand whisk (no electric mixer allowed here =), mix together 1 cup granulated sugar, buttermilk, vegetable oil, egg and sour cream for 1 minute. Gently whisk in dry mixture just until combine, batter should be slightly lumpy (do not over-mix, key to fluffy muffins). Fold in blueberries with a spatula. Divide mixture evenly among 12 - 14 paper lined muffin tins. Allow muffins to rest at room temperature 10 minutes, meanwhile preheat oven to 400 degrees.
After muffins have rested, fluff crumb topping with a fork and sprinkle each muffin evenly with 1 Tbsp crumb topping mixture (if doing 14 muffins you will want to do a scant tbsp). Bake muffins 19 - 23 minutes until lightly golden and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool several minutes in muffin pan before removing to wire rack to cool. © Cannella Vita. All images & content are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without my permission/linking back to Cannella Vita. If you want to republish this recipe, please link back to this post.

recipe showdown: reader’s chocolate chip cookies

I haven’t done a recipe showdown in a while, but one of the most interesting parts of Recipe Showdown is receiving your recipes.  Every time I conduct a recipe showdown, I encourage readers like you to challenge the winner with your own, amazing recipe.  Sure enough, I received a lot of feedback on my Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe Showdown.  Christi from Burlap and Basil and Little B from Little B Cooks both submitted their own sublime chocolate chip cookie recipes.

My original plan was to first compare Burlap and Basil and Little B’s recipes, and then compare the winner of that showdown to the reigning champion (Jacques Torres).  However, a problem arose… the results were split 50-50 even.

I started out with my family — my mom liked Little B’s, my dad preferred Burlap and Basil.  I then moved onto friends and neighbors.  Again, split down the middle.
So ultimately, the scientific method will force me to make each of these again, and then compare them to the reigning champion. But hey, more cookies were never a bad thing (especially in the name of science).

With love,
Erica

Little B Cooks
Burlap and Basil
Description
“A softer cookie, with a delicious
richness.” These cookies have an unconventional ingredient – vanilla pudding
mix! Little B said that she compared Torres’ recipe with her own and everyone
preferred hers.
It’s the cookie that brings best
friends knocking on your door at 10:30 pm.” She told me in the comments that
all of her friends preferred this over Jacques Torres, the reigning champion.
Tasters’ notes
Good
Not as flavorful
“mmmmmmmmm!”
bland
tollhouse-y
more to appreciate
think
meaty
blondie-like
so soft
slightly airy like a cupcake but with the distinct crumble of a cookie.
The flavor was great as well: sweet but not cloying, with a great distribution of chocolate chips.
More interesting
More flavor
Better texture
More chewy crust
Simple
Crunchy edges
standard
Its texture won me over
crisp exterior and the chewy middle.
chocolate galore! Yum!

recipe showdown: sweet potato casserole

I thought it would be a good idea to try four very different recipes for this showdown. However, each of these recipes were very good in its own way.  I’m not saying that to be diplomatic.  Just like their is a perfect outfit for every occasion, there is a perfect sweet potato casserole for every occasion. Here’s the lowdown.

Martha Stewart’s Sweet Potato Casserole:
Perfect for kids, with a beautiful presentation that adults will enjoy as well!
Martha’s sweet potato casserole has a very simple base (just sweet potatoes, milk, and a dash of salt and pepper). But it’s topped with a big, bubbly layer of toasted marshmallows.  It is by far the prettiest of the four casseroles — the toasted marshmallows look so enticing and beautiful on the table!

Ruth’s Chris Sweet Potato Casserole:
Oh. My. God. This sweet potato casserole is knock-your-socks-off tasty.  The buttery, brown sugar topping gets all crispy and delightful.  My mom said she is still thinking about this casserole to this day!  Sure there’s a lot of buttery and brown sugar-y goodness in there, but in the taste department this casserole was the clear winner.

Oh She Glow’s Not Your Grandmother’s Sweet Potato Casserole:
This casserole held its own extremely well against its buttery and sugary counterparts. Sweetened with maple syrup and topped with coconut oil and whole wheat flour, this casserole is not only healthy, but delicious too! Trust me!

Kraft’s Oat Topped Sweet Potato Crisp:
This one was the only one that wasn’t a huge hit, the oats were a bit mushy, and the cream cheese added a strange tang to the sweet potatoes. 🙁

Hope this quick showdown helps you choose which sweet potato casserole to make for your Thanksgiving feast!

With love,
Erica

recipe showdown: baked mac and cheese

Most of the trees in my neighborhood have lost their leaves.  I have to wear a coat to school everyday.  I’ve swapped my iced chai teas with pumpkin spice lattes.
What does this all mean?  It’s time to whip out comfort food recipes!
Nothing hugs the soul on a chilly day like buttery, cheesy goodness.

I can’t think of anything more “comforting” than a bowl of buttery noodles, swaddled in gooey cheese and topped with toasty bread crumbs.
I have a bunch of comfort recipes up my sleeve (mainly because they all look oh-so enticing when they pop up on my Pinterest board).  However, mac-and-cheese is the ULTIMATE comfort food, so I had to get this recipe out to you before Thanksgiving rolls around!

I tried recipes from some of my favorite blogs: The Cooking Actress, Martha Stewart, Brown Eyed Baker, and A Cup of Jo.
The winner of this Showdown was the Cooking Actress’ Brown Butter Mac and Cheese. It won me over with that lovely, nutty aroma of brown butter.  I got nervous when my dad said that it was “interesting” (he is quite the traditionalist, and “interesting” isn’t always great); however, he said that it was diffrerent in a good way.  The only change that I made to the Cooking Actress’ recipe was I used Honey Wheat Ritz crackers as opposed to regular Ritz.  The Honey Wheat crackers added a nice sweetness to the dish, which complemented the sharp cheddar and parmesan.

If you’ve got a family full of kids (or adults), this will be much appreciated at your Thanksgiving table.  As always, feel free to challenge my recipe!
What is your favorite comfort food?
With love,
Erica

oh-so cheesy


Description
It bakes up thick, cheesy and bubbly with a Ritz cracker crust. Completely irresistible, I tell you.
A baked mac and cheese with a Panko bread crumb crust.  (I omitted the pancetta for consistency)
Famously comforting with real bread crumbs and a dash of nutmeg.
Traditional, baked macaroni and cheese with nutty brown butter and a Ritz cracker crust.
Tasters’ notes
Too much pepper!

Funny taste
Good
Crunchy
Too many bread crumbs
Enjoyable
More traditional
Love the nutmeg!
Cheesy crust
Less cheese
Interesting
Different
Brown butter = yum!
Love that you used honey wheat Ritz, it adds sweetness!
Rating (best = 1)
4
3
2
1
I'm ready for my close-up
Ingredients:
  • 12 oz. pasta (I used a combination of elbow macaroni and egg noodles)
  • 6 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • heaping 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese 
  • heaping 3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup buttery crackers, crushed (I used Honey Wheat Ritz)
  • 2 tbsp. melted butter
Cook macaroni according to package directions, drain.
In a medium saucepan, melt 6 tbsp. butter over medium heat. Whisk constantly as it foams and then small brown flecks form. Immediately whisk in flour.
Add milk and continue to whisk over medium heat until smooth and thickened.
Whisk in cheeses until smooth and not clumpy.
Turn off heat. Pour cheese over cooked macaroni.
Prepare a large casserole/baking dish by spraying with non-stick cooking spray. Pour macaroni and cheese in.
Stir 2 tbsp. butter with the crackers. Sprinkle over the top of the mac'n'cheese.
Bake on middle rack of your oven on broil for 5-8 minutes (watch carefully to make sure it doesn't burn!).
From the Cooking Actress