Bananas Foster Problem Solver

Here are the problems I had last night when I got home after a really long day, and how I solved them.

Problem 1: I was, like, zombie-level tired. When I come home on Mondays & Wednesdays, my two longest teaching days, I am wiped out. I have 5 office hours (that are always jam-packed with things to do & students to see) and I teach 4 sections of 3 different classes. That’s after swimming at least a mile at 6:30 am. So, when I get home on those nights, I’m basically a zombie. I am a terrible conversationalist. I’ve talked all day. Answered questions. Given advice. Smiled a lot. Acted like an extrovert. Told all the funny stories I could muster in order to get my students to listen. It takes a TON of energy to be “Dr. Daws” all day. So by the time I get home on Mondays & Wednesdays, I pretty much talk in short grunts, sad nonverbal expressions and whines until I pass out around 9 pm. This wouldn’t be a problem if it was just me & the cat, who would likely prefer I just leave her the hell alone anyway, but when you’ve got a husband to keep happy, it can become an issue. I’m usually so tired I don’t even try to smile. I just go put on my pj’s, heat up some dinner, and veg on the couch until I catch the train to Sleepytown, feeling really guilty that I can’t muster the energy to have a conversation with my sweet husband, much less smile or attempt to look halfway decent.

Problem 1 solution: look at the pretty fall-colored flowers Dave got me, “just because I wanted to make you smile.” 🙂

Awwww. I felt much better. They definitely put a smile on my face & inspired me to actually attempt to have a conversation over dinner last night. Marriage FTW. May all of you ladies have husbands/boyfriends/partners that are so sweet and understanding.

Problem 2: I was dehydrated. Those of you who know how much water I drink in a day are likely laughing. But y’all also know how I am if I don’t have enough water: cranky pants. I had 3 liters of water yesterday when I probably could’ve used 4, since I had a hard swim in the morning.

Problem 2 Solution: of course, a Woodchuck fall cider with dinner. That counts as hydration, right? (At the tailgate on Saturday, Reynolds & I had a disagreement about whether the beverage truly is “fall in a bottle” or “autumn in a bottle,” which he argued was a better word to capture the full spectrum and timeframe of flavors held within the bottle. I seriously think we debated that for a good 5 minutes. This is what happens when Comm/Rhetoric PhD’s get together for tailgates. We are super exciting. Watch out New Orleans!)

Problem 3: I wanted dessert. And I wanted something besides just vanilla ice cream, which is the only thing I thought I had available that was dessert-ish. I had no caramel sauce hanging out in the fridge to make it extra creamy. I had no magical chocolate brownies in the freezer to reheat (guess I’ll be making another batch soon), and I had no energy to make much of anything.

As I was sitting on the couch, pondering dessert, wondering if the plain ol’ vanilla ice cream would even be worth the calories or if I should go to bed, I realized that I did not eat the banana I brought to school as part of my lunch. And, the banana was in my big roller bag that comes with me everywhere, and I realized I should probably retrieve said banana so that it didn’t get smushed or make the entire bag smell like an old, gross banana. I peeled myself off the couch (see what I did there? Banana? Peel? Get it?), retrieved the banana which had turned extremely brown and gross looking, started to berate myself for eating 3 mini Snickers instead of the healthy banana snack earlier, and then it hit me. No, not the banana. An idea hit me. I could make bananas foster to go on top of my ice cream!

I know that part of the charm of this dessert is the flambé, when you tilt the pan full of rum over a flame and watch it burn. I like fire as much as the next pyro, but I also like having all the skin on my hands, arms and face. Y’all know I am somewhat of a klutz in my life and especially in the kitchen, so I’ve found a “LBDelicious” method for making bananas foster that does not require any risk of life or limb. And, it only takes about 2 minutes to whip up – an investment well worth the time, even on a really long day.

Bananas Foster

In a nonstick pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter. As it’s melting, stir in about 1/4 cup of brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon. Slice a banana into quarters, lengthwise, or slice into thin circles (I was in a hurry; the less cutting last night, the better).

(Yes. That is the cutest measuring spoon ever from Anthropologie. I smile whenever I use them. I lusted over these for about 3 years before I let myself splurge & purchase them. I don’t know how I lived without them.)

Allow bananas to hang out in the melted sugar/butter combo for about a minute, coating them on all sides.

Add about 2 tablespoons rum to the pan. Stand back.

(Yes. I have purple martini pajama pants, courtesy of Casey.)

Don’t try to make it flame up. Just crank the heat up to medium  high and let the alcohol evaporate from the pan. Continue to stir the bananas in the sauce for another minute or so.

Pour over some ice cream, and dig in.

This would also be delicious on top of pound cake, if you’re not too keen on ice cream. Or, if you like them both, how about pound cake, ice cream AND bananas foster? I was just reminded I need to make a big pound cake and put it in my freezer for the next time I decide to randomly make bananas foster…

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Puff Pastry Apple Tarts with Homemade Caramel Sauce

In Casa Dawmilam, we call this dessert “little apple pillows of happy.” And Dave’s face lights up when he realizes I’ve made it.

That is a puff pastry apple tart with homemade caramel and ice cream. Mmmm.

It’s a fancy sounding dessert that is really easy and surprisingly cheap. I invented the tart part of the dessert one night on a whim when I had about a half of a leftover apple and wanted to use it instead of tossing it. On that same night, all I could think was, “I bet something with this apple and caramel would be soooo good.” That was also the night I made caramel sauce for the first time. I’m now addicted to it and bet you will be, too. Let’s just cut to the recipes.

Puff Pastry Apple Tart

1 sheet puff pastry dough (store bought; the only brand I can ever find is Pepperidge Farm. It’s in the freezer section, usually near the frozen fruit). Make sure to thaw it out.

1 small apple, cored and diced (I leave the peel on because I’m lazy)

some brown sugar (you expect me to measure this stuff? maybe around 3 tablespoons?)

some cinnamon (couple of dashes out of the can)

a little, tiny bit of freshly grated nutmeg (just a smidge; did you know too much of it is poisonous?)

about 1 teaspoon all purpose flour and more for dusting/rolling the dough

juice of a lemon (or just half the lemon if it’s a really juicy lemon)

one egg

Preheat oven to 375. Prepare a silpat on a baking dish. Or, just spray a cooking sheet with nonstick spray. Set aside.

Prepare the filling. Combine your diced apple with the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon juice. Stir together. Set aside.

Prepare an egg wash. Crack open an egg into a teacup or small bowl. Add a splash of water. With a fork, break up the egg and combine it with the water.

After your puff pastry dough has thawed out (supposedly you’re supposed to leave it at room temp for 45 minutes. Or… zap that baby in the microwave on low power – 20% maybe? – for 1-2 minutes. I just saved you 45 minutes of waiting around on your dough to thaw. You’re welcome), dust a clean surface with flour and gently roll out the dough to iron out the creases left from being folded up. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into thirds, then cut each third into another third or a quarter, whatever you feel like. Then, spoon a small amount of the apple filling onto the center of each square. Fold the rest of the dough over onto itself, making either a triangle or a rectangle – whatever you can get to work. To get the dough to stick together and ensure the filling doesn’t run out everywhere, dip your finger in the egg wash, spread it on one side of the dough, and press the other side to adhere it. Sometimes this is tricky, so just do your best. Repeat for each of your puff pastry squares.

Before placing in the oven, take a sharp knife and cut a little hole in the top of each puff pastry folded over square/rectangle/triangle. This allows steam to escape. You can make a pretty little design if you’re feeling fancy. I generally just make an “X” or two little parallel lines because it’s hard to draw on puff pastry with a knife. And, I’m lazy.

Then, brush the remaining egg wash on top of the pastries. Use a pastry brush if you have it. If not – your hands will work just fine. If you’re feeling really fancy, sprinkle some plain sugar on top of the pastries at this point.

Cook until the puff pastry is golden brown on top, about 12-15 minutes depending on your oven and the puff pastry brand.

These keep really well in the fridge for at least a week. They never last longer than that at my house. But, they aren’t really complete without the two special toppings. One of which is:

Homemade Caramel Sauce

This isn’t my recipe, but it is one I found in the  Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipes book (this is one of my can’t live without cookbooks; well worth the money). Caramel sauce is freaky and scary, sort of like doing a science experiment that could burn the crap out of you. Badly. So proceed with caution.

In a large, nonstick saucepan (yes, large. trust me. also trust me on the nonstick part.) combine 1 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water. They say not to ever stir it, but I always stir at first to help it come together. Cover and place over high heat until it comes to a boil. Remove cover and place a candy thermometer in the pan. Boil over medium-high heat until it comes to a temperature of 350 degrees (sure, you can forego the candy thermometer. Just cook until the molten sugar turns a dark amber color, and it smells about like cotton candy. Should be about 10 minutes. I’m a little too neurotic to just let it go at that. I have to keep the thermometer in.) While the sugar is boiling, heat up 1 cup of heavy cream on the stove – just let it simmer to warm up. No need to bring it to boiling.

As soon as your sugar is at 350 degrees, turn off the heat and pour in about half the cream. Stand back. It will explode in a violent chemical reaction that will be scary. Keep small children, pets, the elderly, and accident prone adults away. When the initial eruption is over, add the rest of the cream, and begin to whisk together to combine. Eventually, the simmering will settle, and you’ll have a beautiful caramel sauce on your hands. Add in about 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, and whisk again.

MMMMM. I want some right now.

This stuff keeps really well in the fridge, and it thickens up as it gets cold. Just keep it in an airtight container. Reheat by the spoonful and add on to ice cream, in coffee, or eat it straight up. Not that I do that or anything. You’ll never, ever buy jarred, mass-produced caramel sauce again. And if you do, you’ll eat it with a sad face, because you know better.

Ice Cream 

Here’s the deal: I am an ice cream addict. My parents started a late-night ice cream habit with me when I was very small, and it continues to this day. I eat ice cream almost every night after dinner. True story. It’s a serious problem.

My absolute FAVORITE vanilla ice cream is Stonyfield Organic Gotta Have Vanilla. Ice cream. Not frozen yogurt. So go splurge & get yourself some of that to go on top of this dessert to add a layer of decadence to it. Of course, you can add whatever vanilla ice cream you have on hand and it’ll be just fine. But if you need a new vanilla ice cream to fall in love with: go for the Stonyfield.

Enjoy your sugar coma!

Acai Bowls and A Happy

Every morning while we were in Oahu on our honeymoon, Dave and I walked downstairs from our hotel (I feel relaxed just looking at their website and now desperately want to go back), to the little coffee shop next door, where we were greeted by the same workers who made us the same breakfast for 5 days straight: an acai bowl. I distinctly remember the other “regulars” in there – the man selling really crappy souvenir t-shirts (Dave bought one, eventually), and the cute Italian couple who also got the same breakfast every morning – two cappuccinos and a chocolate pastry of some sort. I remember thinking that I envied their Italian life, with their coffees & pastries & strange clothing, and how that would be one of the very next places we’d visit (hoping this is my summer!). And I distinctly remember falling completely, madly in love with the acai bowl: frozen acai mixed with a banana, granola, and drizzled with honey. Before we left, on the last day, I asked the workers their secret acai bowl recipe. Turns out, I could make them myself all the way back in Kennesaw. So, I do so, regularly. Like, at least once a week. Why? They’re tasty, loaded with antioxidants, the perfect post-workout snack, and they take me right back to our little piece of heaven on earth… Waikiki.

Acai Bowls

In a blender, combine the following ingredients, in this order:

light, plain soy milk – about 3/4 cup (I prefer Silk brand if I have a coupon, but Kroger brand works too)

about 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt (I prefer Stonyfield organic – organic dairy really does taste better)

Frozen acai (two options: Sambazon has pre-made smoothie packets available at Harry’s in Marietta and probably other places too, or you can do the cheaper route – what I do – and buy the acai juice in a large 1-liter container and freeze it into ice cube trays, using only as much as you need, only when you need it. Goes a little easier on the budget.)

half a frozen banana (or a non-frozen banana, if you don’t happen to keep frozen banana halves in your freezer like I do)

Blend it up as best you can. It should be pretty thick. Transfer to a bowl, top with granola and drizzle with honey. Enjoy.

The Happy

Why the post about Acai Bowls all of a sudden? I just took a survey that asked me to think about an experience that made me happy. Here’s what I wrote, verbatim. It reminded me of Hawaii, and that reminded me of my favorite food from Hawaii. Enjoy the random story.

For our honeymoon, my husband and I went to Hawaii. Not only did we go because we wanted to visit Oahu and the Big Island, but because we were (and still are) HUGE fans of the TV show LOST. Yes – part of our reason for going to Hawaii was so we could take a Lost Adventures Tour, where someone drove us around in a Hummer all over Oahu, taking us to many different locations at which Lost was filmed. We saw beautiful parts of the island, and went crazy seeing some of the most important and crucial sites in the show in person – the bridge where the Dharma sub was docked, the “house in the Dominican Republic” where Sayid ended up after he made it back home off the island, “Hurley’s Hill” where Hurley drove the Dharma van and he, Jin & Sawyer celebrated one of the only happy things to happen to them, the tower that held jughead, the atomic bomb, and the Dharma medical station. It was fun, and made us both happy… but the happiest part came later in the day, when the tour guide told us that for a real treat, we should drive out to Camp Erdman, a YMCA camp where all the Dharmaville scenes were filmed. It’s across from Army Beach, which is where the plane crash was filmed. Two bonus sites at the same time? Yes, please! So, after a quick lunch, we piled in our rented red Mustang convertible, drove in the warm Hawaiian sunshine for 2 hours out to the very northwestern tip of Oahu, in the middle of nowhere, until we saw them: those familiar mustard-yellow cottages that housed the Others and some of the Losties during their time travels. We couldn’t believe our eyes. Off to the right was the most beautiful, pristine beach we’d ever seen – the host to the most classic (fake) plane crash ever seen on national tv, and to the left, was where the Others lived!! We grabbed our camera, and started running around like idiots. We actually acted like we were hiding out from some of the Others trying to find us. Dorks, I know. It’s an active YMCA camp, so we actually ran into kids who were staying there, staring at us like we were nuts. But, we didn’t care. And at one point, my husband gasped, and said, “turn around and look up.” What I saw was the exact same geographic, mountainous profile that Ben and some of the Others saw when they looked up during the Oceanic Flight 815 crash. I felt like I was living a Lost moment, which I know sounds totally ridiculous and cheesy… but I was, at that moment, so incredibly happy. I’d just had the most awesome wedding, I was spending 2 weeks on an island with my husband, and we’d been to where they filmed Lost. To say I was “happy” is a severe understatement.

Strawberry Nutella Crepes

Last year, I brought my dear friend Lindsey to a Georgia Tech game. Well, okay, she didn’t actually go to the game with me, she just hung out at our tailgate for several hours. And on a trip back to the tailgate spot from the student center bathrooms, I spotted from – no joke – 200 yards away, a ginormous, huge, beautiful jar of Nutella. It was the biggest jar of Nutella I had ever seen. And I was hungry, in desperate need of a snack. I stopped in my tracks. I got tunnel vision and was only able to focus on the jar of Nutella. I grabbed Lindsey’s arm. And basically ran to get a Nutella crepe supplied – for free! – by a new crepe restaurant in Smyrna.

Not gonna lie: I may or may not have done a little happy dance while I was inhaling my crepe, right in front of everyone. It was the best thing to ever happen to me at a Georgia Tech tailgate. And, to this day, when I’m tailgating for Tech games, I’m on the lookout for my random crepe cart with a large jar of Nutella.

Sadly, my mysterious, magical free crepe cart hasn’t shown back up near the student center parking garage tailgate spot. But, I did recently attempt crepes for the first time all by myself. And lemme tell you: they’re super easy. You should try them. I followed Julia Child’s dessert crepe recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She has two crepe recipes: one that’s just a general crepe (which I’m sure would be just fine here, but possibly better for savory crepes) and one that’s for desserts, which uses only egg yolks instead of whole eggs, and calls for the addition of orange liqueur. I have to tell you: I was afraid. Crepes seem so delicate and difficult. And I generally have no patience for finicky in the kitchen. But, that crepe batter came together in a matter of minutes, and I’ve been eating on it/practicing my crepe-flipping technique ever since. That means, I’ve been eating lots of Nutella. And I’ve been a happier, better person for it.

Adopted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Dessert Crepes

3/4 cup milk

3/4 cup water

3 egg yolks

1 Tablespoon orange liqueur (Julia calls for 3 Tablespoons; I only wanted a splash. No orange liqueur? Use brandy, or good ol’ vanilla extract probably works)

5 tablespoons melted butter

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 cup flour

Place ingredients in a blender in the order in which they are listed here. Blend at the highest possible speed for 1 minute. Place batter in fridge for at least 2 hours or overnight.

To make the crepes, assuming you’re like me and don’t have/don’t want to buy a crepe pan: get the smallest nonstick pan you have. I used my trusty 7″ el cheapo nonstick skillet that I use to make omelettes. Heat the pan over medium high-ish with 1/2 tablespoon butter. Make sure the butter coats the entire pan – you may want to use a silicone brush to accomplish this task.

Pour into the pan a scant 1/4 cup batter, and twirl the pan around so that the batter covers the bottom of the pan. This is important, both the amount of batter, the twirling, and the covering of the bottom of the pan. If you use too much batter, you will not have happy crepes. Anything more than JUST ENOUGH to cover the bottom of the pan results in a thick crepe, and we’re not trying to get pancakes here – we want paper thin, light, airy wrappers for our Nutella & strawberries. I messed that up several times. It’s hard to just use barely enough batter to cover the bottom of the pan. But you just have to let it go & do what Julia says every once in a while.

Back to the recipe: once the base of the pan is covered with batter, let it cook for about 45 seconds. Then, flip it over to cook on the other side. I found that the more batter I used, the harder it was to flip them. Not that I’ve got the hang of flipping them, mind you, but the less batter I use, the easier it is. How do you flip them? Julia says something about using two spatulas or your hands. Since I have burned myself so much that I have very little sensitivity to heat in my fingertips, and I like to live on the edge, I used a spatula to help me grasp the edges, then used my hands to pull the crepe out of the pan and flip it. And I usually screwed that up somehow. But, look! One turned out really nicely. This is before I rolled it up and tore into it.

What else can you put in crepes? Anything. Cream cheese & fruit. Cream cheese fruit dip & fruit. Bananas & Nutella. Peanut butter & jelly. Goat cheese. Spinach. Mushrooms. Anything your little heart can dream up. Best of all? This batter has lasted a couple of days and still gives good results. And they take just a minute or two to make. Have I convinced you to make them yet? You should.