Cheating on Butter with Coconut Oil Banana Bread

I ate everything out of the fridge last night, everything, including a tub of butter. There’s no judgement here.

(My all-time favorite butter quote from Grey’s Anatomy, season 3, episode 15)

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In kitchen, as in life, you do play favorites. Vanilla or cinnamon. Nutella or peanut butter. Scrambled or sunny-side-up. Sure enough, you can always have both, but at the end of the day you are most likely to choose one. And then, you also choose the one: a product or ingredient that you will favor over the others and stick to for better or for worse. I happen to stick to butter. Sometimes quite literally.

While I would be happy to experiment with different types of flour (had I not lived in Japan where that kind of experimenting is still over my budget), I remain suspicious of any recipes that do not call for butter but some other type of saturated or unsaturated fat instead. That is until last week, when a seemingly innocent trip made me cheat on butter. Big time.

On my short trip to the Philippines, I was expecting more of a savory adventure, one that can be easily experienced in Thailand or other parts of South-East Asia that I have had the chance to travel to. And maybe I could have had that sort of experience, if only the names of some local specialities like – just to name a few – ox tongue or pork belly did not scare me away. For good. Two days into my trip, I have already abandoned the idea of a culinary adventure and was content to stick to European cuisine. Shame on me, I know, but in my defense, since I moved to Japan eating cheese has become as exotic as it gets. And then one morning, I picked up dark looking bread from the hotel buffet’s bread corner and did not imagine it to be a sweet and moist banana bread. I found it again and again in each hotel, coffee shop and breakfast-serving restaurant. This, for me, became the ultimate taste of the Philippines.

All this does not yet lead to an affair with coconut oil. I am even pretty sure that some of those delicious banana breads that I have tasted were made with butter. Married to butter for life, I was planning to look for a butter banana bread recipe upon my return to Japan, but then…On the last day before my return flight I found myself walking around a coconut farm and getting a sneak peek of the coconut oil production process. Drinking coconut water and coconut milk fresh from the coconut shell did not really help to fight off temptation, either. I mean, who can resist buying produce straight from its source, as fresh as it could ever be? I have been toying with the idea of trying out the coconut oil in the kitchen, inspired by some of my favorite food bloggers and their recipes, yet I don’t think it would have happened anytime soon if it wasn’t for that trip and the sight of a Filipino woman slicing one coconut after another.

For all butter lovers out there, beware of the coconuts!!

Coconut Oil Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips (for a ‘little oven’ form; mine is 21cm long, 6.7cm wide and 5.9cm tall)

Recipe adapted from http://allthingssimpleblog.com/tag/coconut-oil-banana-bread/ (original recipe:  http://flourbakery.com/book/flour-spectacular-recipes-bostons-flour-bakerycafe )

Ingredients:

100g of flour

half a teaspoon of baking soda

a pinch of salt and cinnamon

1/3 cup of light brown sugar (this is for a very mild, almost natural sweetness, you can add a little more if you like)

1 egg

1/4 cup plus one spoon virgin coconut oil (melted and cooled, you can also just put the bottle inside a warm bath until the oil liquifies again)

2 ripe bananas

3 spoons of sour cream or yoghurt

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (or the equivalent of walnut meal)

1/2 cup chocolate chips

 

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Lightly grease the cake pan. If your coconut oil was kept in a temperature below 25 degrees, melt it and cool it or warm it using a water bath.

2. Peal, cut and mash the bananas

3. Sift together all dry ingredients except walnuts (flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt). Set aside.

4. In a large bowl beat together sugar and egg until light and fluffy, three to five minutes.

5. Slowly add coconut oil, then add bananas and sour cream. Fold in the dry ingredients. Add walnuts or walnut meal and chocolate chips.

6. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for about 45 minutes. Let it cool on a cake rack.

 

 

Little Oven

Daily Prompt: All About Me

Explain why you chose your blog’s title and what it means to you.

Even though I am late for the Daily Prompt challenge, I decided to post it since it is a nice way to explain the story behind the blog’s title.

- Four burners? And an oven ?

- Really? 

- Is this common in Europe? 

More eyebrows were raised as my words echoed repeated by different voices, all with the same element of surprise, though. I was invited to an international exchange volunteer group to speak about the cultural differences and surprises that I discovered upon my arrival in Japan. I could have talked about the unbelievable Japanese trains that kindly remind you not to forget your umbrella when you get off at a big station, the incomprehensible principles according to which the Japanese people built their cities or the initial discomfort of getting on the bus and noticing that all passengers are wearing white face masks, as if awaiting a biological war to break out any minute. I chose to talk about apartment hunting in Japan, kitchen stoves and ovens.

Affordable Japanese apartments can only accommodate one or two gas burners and, in a more luxurious version, a small drawer-like fish grill to go with it. No kitchen range, no oven. This, along with the scarcity of dairy products, was my biggest disappointment in the early days of my Japanese life and sometimes I think I am still not over it. From time to time I dream of cheese and ovens and when I see a four-burner stove I get ecstatic. After several months in my first Japanese apartment, I learned to bake cookies and brownies in the fish-grill (and not to burn the top!) and found out that I can even manage with a single burner stove, which in Europe is an equivalent of outdoor cooking. A couple of years have passed and now, I am not only making the labneh cheese by myself but am also the proud owner of an oven.

Owning an oven in Japan might be what owning a good car is in other countries. It requires space that most Japanese apartments don’t have and the resources that an entry-level employee won’t have for years to come. Thus, my oven is little. Literally. It is not an endearing name that I tried to come up with for my blog; it is, indeed, a very little oven that could fit inside a normal sized oven just like a small matrioshka doll fits inside the bigger one. Surprisingly enough, my oven is not the smallest one in the oven family, the one that fits about two butter rolls or croissants; it fits as many as six at a time! And is as dear to me as a very expensive car would be to a car lover.

The burnt, the raw and a couple of life wisdoms

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When she was twelve, my big sister was a real fountain of life wisdom.

Standing by the sink, washing the dishes, she would declare to anyone who listened that she had already washed enough dishes for her lifetime! Hence, the amount of life experience, I suppose. She would make other serious statements in this opinionated and inarguable manner of her that would give the whole family a pretty strong feeling that she would go through life head-on, doing what she wanted to do and not listening to what other people might say or think about that.

Washing the dishes was a serious issue. She referred to it in other important life matters such as, for example, choosing a life partner. At twelve, my sister swore that she wouldn’t marry a guy unless he checked all the boxes on her three-item perfect guy checklist.

  1. Must know how to dance. 
  2. Must cook or be rich enough to eat-out every day. 
  3. Must buy me a dishwasher. 

Clearly, cooking wasn’t her favorite pastime, either. I was born for bigger things than cooking! is yet another of her golden quotes. And twenty years later she keeps her word, dismissing all those family jokes and hints over the years (such as four huge cookbooks – three of which were actually copies of the same book! – she got as her wedding present).

When I think about all those people and things that made me set my mind on baking at the age of eight or nine, the image of my Grandmother comes up naturally, since she is the one who called us into the kitchen to help her make jams and confitures, apple juices and peach compotes, first let me bake a cake entirely by myself and ,finally, who always had a cherry confiture fruit cake (Here, you will surely find pie, part two) sitting on the kitchen counter.

And yet yesterday, when I ruined a whole batch of doughnuts for Fat Thursday (a big Polish tradition otherwise known as the Doughnut Day) I couldn’t help but think about my big sister. My grandmother was the reason why I started baking in the first place, my sister, on the other hand, is why I kept on baking in spite of dozens (hundreds, maybe?) of ruined cookies and cakes. She ate everything I made, from truly inedible pizza that had ketchup and salt on top of it (what can I say? tomato sauce replacement by a nine-year-old) to raw cookie dough and slack-baked cakes. She ate the burnt, the raw, the too sweet or too bitter and never called it what it was: a baking disaster.

I have yet to gain the type of wisdom that allows to sums up life’s most important choices into witty, three-item checklists, however, I did gain some baking wisdom along the way.

  1. Follow the recipe… (do not, I beg you, replace, add, subtract or double anything in the recipe, even if the creative side of you is really itching to do that – that alone accounts for 90% of my baking disasters, I suppose)
  2. …but trust your instincts (especially if the recipe says you may fill the doughnuts with jam before deep-frying them and yet, you have doubts if the jam won’t make the dough too heavy or if you don’t need to extend the frying time for a minute or two…)
  3. Never, and I mean, never get discouraged, instead, surround yourself with people who will swallow the burnt, eat the raw or use any other means to make you feel better about your last oven battle.

When I get the courage to experiment with the doughnut recipe again (and should the result be positive) I will post it here, in the meanwhile, feel free to come back to share more stories. Doughnut comments more than welcome!

Here, you will surely find pie (Part 2)

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And then, there was this whole universe of fruit picking and jam making, baking seasonal cakes and cookies for no special occasion, the world where the time in the kitchen was meant to be slow. I fell in love with this world, in love with some of my friends’ stay-at-home moms, their kitchens and their homes. Not that I didn’t love my family’s busyness, the thrill, the rush, the adrenaline that defined our everyday as well as our kitchen life (Dinner service). But this universe I discovered in other people’s homes was something else. Those were the places like my Grandma’s kitchen, small but cozy with one window overlooking the garden and the cherry fruit cake sitting at the countertop waiting for someone to walk into the kitchen and discover it hiding under a brown paper bag. Already as a child, it was reassuring to know that if you just open the kitchen door and look around, you will find that cherry cake, with delicious crumble on top and crimson cherries picked from the six cherry trees in the garden and turned by my Grandma into a delicious, sweet confiture every year in July.

The kitchen I was raised in was an exciting kitchen where dishes could be made as fast as if they were ordered in a restaurant. The kitchen I am still longing for is a kitchen where there is this comforting certainty that if you just walk through the door, you will surely find a cake, or a batch of cookies sitting somewhere on the kitchen table.

P.S. For all those for who – like me – get nostalgic while remembering fruit picking and jam making family moments I might add that pitting cherries from six cherry trees using nothing but a disinfected safety pin (pitting machines would always skip a few cherries here and there and my family has a history of teeth being broken on cherry pits) is a lovely, but grueling task.

Dinner Service (Part 1)

I have come to love two, intrinsically opposite, types of a house, a kitchen, a family life. The one that I was born into and another one that I longed for. The first one is the busy life of my parents, bustling, fast-paced, work-centered and yet filled with guests and parties, dinners and homemade birthday cakes, endless visitors and phone-calls.

A quite famous family story told – not without a sense of pride – by my Mom goes like this. Once my Grandma – who lived about 200km away from where my parents, my sister and I lived, came to visit for a couple of days, a week maybe. In the next few hours after her arrival our three-room apartment filled with my parents’ work acquaintances, neighbors, friends stopping by for a quick chat and a coffee while running errands (my parents lived somewhere at the crossroad of wherever you’re heading to and whatever you’re doing in the downtown). There were friends (or boyfriends) of my sister and my school friends squeezed together in our shared room. There was constant running to the kitchen to put water for tea and also to pick up the ringing phone or let the newcomers in. At one point – as my Grandma, at least according to my mother, counted – there were about 17 people in our 73 square meter apartment and it is a safe shot to say a double of that in phone-calls. All through the evening, my Grandma was sitting in her high chair in the living room, trying to survive this Noah-like flood of people, phone-calls and inter-phone buzzes. She had seen two World Wars and she was not an easily scared or intimidated woman, I can assure you. But as the night came to its end, she sat straight in her chair and announced to my parents: ‘Tomorrow, I am going back home.’  You can’t really blame her, can you?

This was the house I grew up in. And don’t get me wrong, I loved it! Every single part of it. The thrill of the unexpected guests (some of them would show up at three in the morning!) hundreds of people that I got to call aunt and uncle, simple family dinners upgraded within minutes to sophisticated parties for business partners of my father (it didn’t matter that sitting at the table, I could barely understand what was being said since all his business partners were German; come to think of it, this was actually part of the excitement). For a child that would mostly stay home and read her books (I did say I loved stories already as a seven-year-old, didn’t I?), this was the equivalent or crazy outdoor adventures with the neighborhood kids that I was never really a part of, being too much of a bookwork and a straight-A student. This was the house I knew and, as any child, I believed that it was only normal to be always running against the time and rushing to throw last-minute dinners and parties. My parents never owned a restaurant and as far as I know they have never dreamt of opening or running one. And yet, theirs was the spirit of a busy dinner service.

Before baking come stories

In case if this is where you join the story, I’ll repeat the one thing you should know. My Grandma taught me the pleasure of spending time in the kitchen as well as the importance of stories. And when I say stories, I do not mean books for children that all grandmas occasionally read to their grandchildren at bedtime. Those stories I could read by myself by the age of four, being taught to read by my older sister (a pretty good story in itself, I’ll try to come back to it later), enjoying the independence it gave me from my busy parents’ schedules. I mean real-life adult stories, with all their magical drama, improbable twists and turns, always exceeding anything depicted in fiction. Don’t get me wrong. I love fiction. I loved it since I was four and all through my childhood and teenage years, I swallowed fiction books faster even that a batch of cookies. But the real-life stories do tend to have the most unlikely, unexpected plot which makes them all the more appealing. 

And so, I would curl up at my Grandma’s reclining sofa bed or at a sofa armchair in my parents’ apartment and ask her to tell me some stories. And she would never ask: “what stories do you want me to tell you?” Her stories were already there, waiting to be told or read. Sometimes, she would read me pomes she used to write for all seven of her grandchildren. But mostly, it would be stories of her pre-war life, her family, stories of horses and Jewish shopkeepers, both so foreign to a city-raised child born in Poland in the eighties. These were the stories she spent eleven years writing down with a blue pen in thin school notebooks. I have quickly fallen under their spell and at the age of seven these were my favorite bedtime stories. My favorite one was the one of how an old Gypsy fortune-teller told my Grandma she would get married in two weeks while it was 1939 and without a fiancé the concept of getting married on a whim or eloping with a handsome stranger was simply unthinkable. And there she was, married only eight days after meeting the fortune-teller. You see what I mean? How can you not – especially at the magical age of seven –  be compelled and consumed by stories like that one?

Before baking come stories.

Before this blog gets filled with recipes and pictures and, most probably, before it has any readers, there are a couple of stories waiting to be told.

My Grandma’s oven

If there was ever any doubt as to who I would become once I grew up, my Grandma had an oven with my name on. No kidding. It was a big kitchen stove/oven combo with four gas burners on top and a big electric-gas oven underneath. It was white as, quite unpractically, almost all kitchen stoves in Poland from sixties to nineties had been and had it’s model name written in big black letters next to five gas burner handles. The letters as big as the handles themselves. Long before the modern days when kitchen stove models proudly bear names like Everhot 120i or something like that, there was a time when kitchen ranges (kitchen appliances, too) and their successive models were christened with women’s names. And so my Grandma’s oven had my name on it.

Before I even went to school, my Grandma also taught me two important things. She taught me how to bake and how to enjoy a good story. Ever since, in times of joy as well as times when my small world was quickly unravelling, I have always held on to those two things as they have never failed me. Obviously, burned cookies and inedible cakes and other baking disasters do not count.

This blog is a story. A story to be told while your favorite cookies are browning in the oven, however small or big that oven is.