Go Banana! Warm Banana-Almond Muffins with Brown Sugar Topping & The Story of a Broken-Hearted Muffin Lady

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banana almond muffins with brown sugar topping

Oh, muffin.  So many people adore you, my brother and father included.  They eat you for breakfast with their coffee.  They grab you on the go when they’re hungry or in a rush.  My dear coworker, Pat, treats everyone at work to a batch of you almost every Friday.  And let’s face it, you’re very versatile and easy to bake.  But I have to say it: I’m Deb and I have a love-hate relationship with you, THE MUFFIN.  *GASP*  Dun-dun-dun!

I know, you’d never know it from following Ate by Ate.  While I certainly don’t yak about muffins the way I do cupcakes or macarons, I do squeal over the cutie-patootieness of mini muffins (I even love saying mini muffin!) and I’ve posted a handful of tea muffin recipes over the years in a variety of flavours.  So what’s the deal?  I love homemade muffins but turn my nose up at store-bought ones.  There.  I said it.  I’m a muffin snob.

banana almond muffins with brown sugar topping

Which I know sounds confusing because every muffin was technically baked by somebody even if the batter was mixed by machinery.  But let’s be real.  I know we’ve all come across those horrendous muffins that look as though they’ve been pumped with steroids, that ooze grease when you give them a poke, that taste like cardboard (um, not that I know what cardboard really tastes like, but humour me and imagine it), and have no love, no character to them.  Those are the muffins that have turned me away all these years and to this day they still make me wary.

So much so that I even unintentionally declared it in public.  Oh yes.  I will never forget the day I broke a woman’s heart over a pack of muffins.  Long story short, I was grocery shopping with mumsie.  As we were browsing the bakery and baked goods, mumsie asked, “do you want some muffins?” to which I replied very forcefully and loudly, “EW, NO!  MUFFINS ARE FATTENING!”  Mumsie’s eyes and mouth widened in mortification as she smacked my arm and cried, “DEBRA!”  I scoffed, “what?”  “That woman was so happy looking at those muffins and you ruined it for her!”

Apparently I had destroyed a nearby shopper’s outlook on muffins with my unintentional outburst as said shopper immediately dropped the pack of muffins she was holding like a hot potato and scadaddled out of there.

Oops.

banana almond muffins with brown sugar topping

banana almond muffins with brown sugar topping

To that nice, innocent woman who was looking at muffins that day: I am sorry.  To make it up to you, here is a fab recipe I adapted from allrecipes.com.  They are banana-almond muffins with brown sugar-cinnamon-almond topping and they are moist and delicious and I hope they make you happy.  With homemade muffin love, Deb.

Recipe for Banana-Almond Muffins with Brown Sugar-Cinnamon-Almond Topping (adapted from the Banana Crumb Muffins recipe from allrecipes.com)

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients: Muffins

  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds (*Deb’s Note: this was my special addition!  The original recipe does not call for ground almonds)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 4 bananas, mashed (*Deb’s Note: the original recipe called for 3 bananas; I had 4 in my kitchen so I just used up all 4)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil (*Deb’s Note: the original recipe called for butter but I didn’t feel it was necessary to use butter so I substituted vegetable oil and it worked out perfectly)

Ingredients: Topping

  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon

banana almond muffins with brown sugar topping

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375°F.  Lightly grease 12 muffin cups or line with paper liners.
  • In a large bowl, mix together flour, ground almonds, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.  In another bowl, beat together bananas, sugar, egg and vegetable oil.  Stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture just until moistened.  Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.
  • In a small bowl, mix together sliced almonds, brown sugar and cinnamon for the topping.  Sprinkle topping over muffins.
  • Bake for 18 to 20 min. (*Deb’s Note: the original recipe called for 18 to 20 min.; I baked mine for 17 min. and they turned out fine), or until toothpick inserted into centre of muffin comes out clean.

*****

Recipe adapted from allrecipes.com.  The original recipe, Banana Crumb Muffins, can be accessed HERE.

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Joy in a Jar – Layers of Coconut Granola, Yogurt, Seeds, Maple Syrup, & Dried and Fresh Fruit at Joy Bistro!

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Coconut granola, pulled pork eggs benny, and lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberries – what can I say?  With a menu that boasts dishes like these, and after my fabulous first visit to Joy Bistro in Leslieville, I was really happy going back to the sweet and breezy eatery on Queen East for seconds!  Joy Bistro really does make you feel, well, joyous!  Whether you’re out on the airy patio or relaxing inside with the sunlight streaming in through the windows, being here makes you feel like you’re truly enjoying time off during your weekend brunch meal. 

You see everyone else around you sharing plates of food, digging into their large brunch dishes, slicing into pancakes, French toast, and eggs, spearing a piece of peameal onto their fork, and sipping Caesars by the bar and you feel their joy just bursting out.  I’ve been told that I look so happy when I eat.  As funny and silly as that sounds in a way (it makes me snort with giggles) I understand where it’s coming from because I see the enjoyment on people’s faces when I glance at others around me and it’s the joy of being around the people you love and the joy of having great, delicious food right in front of you. 

And if you can believe it, my second meal here was even more fantastic than the first!  Part of me was really leaning toward the lemon ricotta pancakes, but I was also incredibly curious about the coconut granola ($8.50) with sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds with fruit and maple syrup.  I know, I eat yogurt parfaits at home.  But that’s like saying, “hmm, I bake cookies, I’ll never buy another cookie outside again!”  As simplistic a dish may be, I feel it’s always worth checking out because everyone prepares and presents their dishes differently.  And let’s face it, when the professionals do what they do best, it’s second to none and so darn good.

I was absolutely delighted and floored when my coconut granola and yogurt was brought out.  Absolutely in awe.  You should have seen my face.  I probably looked like a little one seeing her birthday cake with candles come out for the first time!  I’m not really sure what I was expecting.  Maybe a glass with yogurt and granola layers.  Maybe a bowl.  Never did I expect my sweet, fruit, crunchy, yummy coconut granola to come in a giant glass jar with snap lid!  It was SO cute and adorable!  Something you’d see from a country kitchen and house out of House on the Prairie or something!  I couldn’t believe how sweet the presentation was! 

Food and treats in jars are all the rage right now.  Remember my sweet little strawberry shortcake custard trifle from Simple Bistro on Mount Pleasant?  And all the layered desserts and cookie and baking mixes that DIYers make as gifts and favours?  Food in jars has definitely come a long way from its sole association with baby food, that’s for sure!  Regardless of the trend factor though, this yogurt and granola brunch scored top-notch points in presentation and in deliciousness.

The coconut granola brunch dish was layered with maple syrup, creamy, mildly sweet vanilla yogurt, granola with oats, various types of seeds, coconut, dried fruit (cranberries and apricots), and tons of fresh fruit including blueberries, sliced bananas, and sliced strawberries.  Not only did the whole dish taste fresh and juicy and wholesome, it really showed off how resourceful Joy Bistro was in their usage of food and their waste management. 

I know, this is supposed to be about delicious food, not waste!  But we all know waste is always part of the equation when we talk about food; it’s not all hearts and daisies.  The volume of fruits, vegetables, and dairy is so difficult to manage because of their short shelf life and it really impressed me seeing them use the strawberries, blueberries, and bananas that were present on my banana bread French toast my first time there in another brunch main.  You’ll never be able to eliminate waste completely, but using all your ingredients in different ways for different dishes shows your resourcefulness and versatility and a willingness to work with the food in more than one manner.

Their coconut granola yogurt parfait was delicious and terrific.  I was floored at how good the vanilla yogurt was.  Much of the time, yogurt can come off as too tangy, too watery, too thick, and admittedly, somewhat tasteless.  I love yogurt but even I can acknowledge its flaws.  Their vanilla yogurt wasn’t any of those things.  The sweetness and vanillaness to it was noticeable enough for me to take note and love it, but also perfectly mild enough to let the granola and fruit shine.  The fruits were juicy and plump, the granola was crunchy and honey sweet, and the maple syrup was bang on what the parfait needed to make it extra special.  I love the dried fruits, I love the seeds, and I loved how the texture of the granola was chunky and crunchy yet also finely crushed and milled in other ways with the coconut and seeds.       

Joy Bistro has really become a favourite of mine in the area and it’s only a matter of time before I tick off the eggs benny and pancakes off my brunch list!

*****

Joy Bistro is located at 884 Queen Street East in Leslieville, at the corner of Booth Ave. and Queen East across the street from Jimmie Simpson Park.  They serve weekend brunch, lunch, and dinner as well as plenty of drinks at the bar!  Hours of operation: Monday-Wednesday 11am-12am midnight, Thursday-Friday 11am-1am, Saturday 8am-1am, and Sunday 8am-12am midnight.

Banana Buttons and Baking With Love – Squeaking Out the Last Layout for National Scrapbooking Month

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*****

Scrapbooking materials used: powder blue, sky blue, pale yellow, buttercup yellow, cappuccino, and chocolate brown cardstock (Recollections); blue and brown patterned paper and green, brown, pale blue and pink circles patterned paper (Choco Mod scrap pad kit and stack by Stemma); baking stickers and embellishments (Jolee’s); chocolate chip cookie embellishments (handmade); sparkly banana button (De Serres art store); medium scallop circle paper punch (ek success); medium and small scalloped edge decorative scissors (Provo Craft); black fine point Sharpie pen.

Cherry Yogurt, Granola, Coconut, and Crunchie Munchie Cereal – Yogurt Parfait Mornings and Lunches

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I love breakfast.  I think I’ve said this more times than I can remember.  But it’s my favourite meal of the day and I enjoy celebrating it with good food and nice photos.  Egg breakfasts, waffles, home fries, tofu scrambles, I love it all and I can never get enough, via my tummy and my eyes.  Ever since I stumbled on blogs like {365} Breakfasts and 365 Days of Breakfast, I’ve become even more inspired to capture those early morning “me” moments, mid-morning munchies, and lunchtime food extravaganzas.  Aside from my post and photos of vanilla almond cereal in almond milk, I haven’t posted any more of those quiet, pensive “it’s just me with my thoughts and bowl of cereal” moments and figured it was as good a time as any to start jazzing things up with some photos of my beloved yogurt parfaits! 

I’ve gone through many food phases over the past year (vanilla almond cereal in warm almond milk, Fruit Loops in warm almond milk, and peanut butter on toast with almond milk – can you tell you I like almond milk?!), but the one thing that has managed to stick around has been my fruit and yogurt and I’ve discovered some fabulous tasting combinations because of it. 

I never used to like yogurt when I was little.  I hated it.  It was either too goopy, too watery, or it was just plain awful and tasteless.  Strawberry yogurt my butt.  Then something magically happened when I started university.  Yogurt suddenly tasted great.  It didn’t become my be-all, end-all favourite thing to eat, but it did go from “ew” to “yum” somewhat overnight.  I don’t know if it was just me or the brands I started eating or both, but yogurt finally clicked for me and I found myself getting parfaits every week at school, getting the yogurt & berries from Timmy’s for breakfast, and eating it with my lunch at home on days I didn’t have school.  And so began the Adventures of Yogurt Parfaits.

It was also my foolproof way of getting in some healthy dairy and fruit into my meal without labouring over eating everything separately.  I am a very slow eater so there are times where I just don’t want to eat anymore because I’m just tired of chewing so putting things together makes my life, personally, easier and less labourous.  It’s so easy to blow fruit off at the end of the meal because you’re already full and can’t eat another bite, and the same goes for yogurt.  The idea of sitting around, slowly spooning yogurt the same way you’d spoon baby food into a baby’s mouth is unappealing and unappetizing.  So you put the two together when you know you’re hungry, you add the crunchies munchies and maybe a little sweet treat here and there (dark chocolate chips, anyone?), and you eat it for breakfast or with your lunch (I repeat, with your lunch, not after because that’s the excuse-making danger zone) and have yourself a jolly good time.   

It’s so much fun making them!  I switch things up all the time, accessorizing my different flavours of yogurt (lemon meringue!  Berry berry!  Raspberry crumble!  Mango pineapple!) with fruit, cereal, granola, nuts, seeds, and some sweet additions from time to time.  Since I’m allergic to so many fruits in their raw state, I take advantage of whatever I can.  Bananas, drained canned peaches, blueberries, strawberries, whatever we have on hand.  What we have here: cherry yogurt with sliced bananas, Honey Bunches of Oats cereal in vanilla almond, granola, unsalted sunflower seeds, and shredded coconut to make it look extra pretty!  I love having texture in my food, especially in my yogurt, so the crunchier and munchier the better!  Next up on the list: maybe something with chocolate.  Mmmm.

Baking is No Monkey Business – Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies!

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Happy Monday everyone!  It’s the start of another busy week, so I’m kicking it off with some good old fashioned chocolate chip cookies.  But they’re not just any ordinary chocolate chip cookies.  Oh no, they’re BANANA chocolate chip cookies!  I don’t know about everybody else, but there are always bananas in our kitchen.  For those of you who know me well or who’ve been following the blog, you know that I have pretty bad allergies to a number of different fruits.  I’m allergic to the raw fruit flesh of apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, honeydew melon, and pineapples.  And those are the allergies that I’m currently aware of – there could be others lurking around! 

Thus, bananas are a staple in our household because it’s one of the few fruits that 1) I can eat without swelling up like a blowfish, 2) are pretty much available in good condition all year-round, and 3) won’t make baked goods and foods like pancakes soggy.  Bananas are one of my favourite thickening agents, not to mention it soothes an achy stomach.  So in the words of Ralph Wiggum, “Go banana!” 😀

I baked two sets of cookies over the weekend for my grandpa’s birthday (chosen from my foodie murder mysteries by Joanne Fluke) and these were definitely the winner between the two kinds I made.  I chose the Pineapple Delights recipe from Key Lime Pie Murder and Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies from Plum Pudding Murder.  These are SO INCREDIBLY SOFT.  Like melt-in-your-mouth soft.  Handle with care soft.  You get the idea.  I’m pretty sure the softness of the cookies is due to the combination of butter and icing sugar.  The resulting batter is practically like whipped cream, so airy and fluffy.  These cookies are thin, delicate, flavourful cookies and I love them.

I had to tweak the oven temperature after the first batch came out though because the edges were too charred for my liking (I’m picky, what can I say?) and they were teetering on the edge of burned.  Had I not taken the first batch out when I did, they definitely would have been crispy to say the least!  So what you see in the photos is the second batch, which I adjusted by 50 degress fahrenheit.  Perfect cookies!

Recipe for Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies (yields 3 dozen large or 5 dozen small cookies)

Ingredients

  • 2  sticks (1 cup, ⅟₂a pound) softened butter
  • 1 and ⅟₂cups powdered (confectioners) sugar (only sift it if there are lumps)
  • 1 medium banana
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅟₄teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups flour (pack it down when you measure it)
  • 6 oz. package (or 1 cup) semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
  • ⅟₂teaspoon lemon extract

Directions:

  • Beat the softened butter and the powdered sugar together until they look light and creamy.  Add the half teaspoon of lemon extract and mix it in.
  • Peel the banana and break it into chunks.  Mix them in until they’re thoroughly mashed and the powdered sugar and butter mixture is smooth again.
  • Sprinkle in the baking powder and salt, and mix them in thoroughly.
  • Add the flour in half-cup increments, mixing after each addition.  When the cookie dough is thoroughly mixed, mix in the chocolate chips by hand until they are evenly distributed throughout the dough.
  • Line with your cookie/baking sheets with foil (**Deb’s note: I used parchment paper and it worked fine).  Use a teaspoon to drop cookie dough 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets, no more than 12 cookies to a sheet.  (**Deb’s note: you can always use a larger spoon to make larger cookies, or scoop as little or as much dough as you want to get the desired size.  The cookie dough does spread, so just keep that in mind when dropping the dough on the cookie sheets).
  • Bake the cookies at 400 degrees F. for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.  (**Deb’s note: 400 degrees was way too hot for mine so I decreased the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. and the cookies turned out perfect.  I also just baked them for 8 minutes).
  • Remove them from the oven and let the cookies sit on the cookie sheets for 2 minutes.  Remove the foil (or parchment paper) and cookies from the sheets, foil/paper and all, to a wire rack to cool completely.

*****

Recipe taken from Joanne Fluke’s Plum Pudding Murder.  New York: Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2009.  Photographs taken by me.  The recipe can be found on page 178.

Rise and Shine: Banana French Toast

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I may not be the morning person I used to be growing up (I whimper when my alarm goes off at 6am – it should be illegal to have to wake up when it’s still pitch black out, good god) but I loooove breakfast foods.  Runny scrambled eggs, sausage, home fries, waffles, French toast, fruit and granola, yogurt parfaits, smoked salmon and cream cheese…I am all over it like mud on a pig.  And given how I’m hungry only, oh I’d say, a few minutes after I wake up, it is imperative that I eat.  I am not joking.  My stomach makes gurgly noises and will start to eat eatself if I don’t feed the poor thing.  It makes me feel like a high maintenance 2-year-old at times, but I look at it this way: I get an extra delicious meal in before everyone else has even stumbled out of bed.  Yup, Deb has already inhaled a breakfast burrito before you’ve even combed your hair.  I kick butt.

Today’s breakfast: banana French toast!  Now I know there are probably an infinite number of ways to make French toast, but here’s how I do it.  If you’re using medium-sized eggs, you can go by a 3:4 ratio: 3 whipped eggs for every 4 pieces of toast.  We made 8 slices of French toast and used 6 eggs and had a little bit of egg mixture left over, so it works just fine.  After cracking the eggs in a large bowl, I pour a splash of milk in (I use 1% but whatever you have on hand should work) and whip them up with either a pair of chopsticks or a fork, whatever works for you. 

Heat your skillet or frying pan on high heat to get it going.  Drizzle a little vegetable oil when the skillet is hot and lower it medium-high heat.  Maximum-high will burn your eggs and toast, and medium isn’t “sizzling” enough to crisp up the toast; you’ll be left with soggy centres if it’s not hot enough.  Spongy and moist, yes, soggy, no.  Lift up the pan and tilt it around so the oil coats the entire surface.  And then you give your bread an egg bath! 😀  Dunk your bread in the egg mixture (I used whole wheat today) coating both sides.  Slap the bread in the skillet and let it hang out for about a minute so the edges can crisp up and the centres can cook before flipping.  Rinse and repeat for the rest of the batch.  Sift powdered sugar or cinnamon over top and add desired fruit (in my case, sliced bananas) and ta-da! 😀

I’m really excited to try out some new granola, quinoa, and dried fruit recipes, and I have a batch of breakfast photos that I haven’t posted on the blog yet, so look out for those too!  Rise and shine, y’all!