Thursday, January 18, 2007

New banana bread and a basic lasagna...

My frozen ripe banana stash in the freezer was getting a little out of hand, so I wanted to bake something today to use at least a couple of them up. While most of the ingredients in this Banana Blueberry Bread are commonly found in quick breads, it does have a unique component that one might not typically use in baking - dry quick-cooking grits! The addition of dry grits gave the baked loaf a textural crunch that mingled well in the moist soft bread. Along with vanilla extract, I used vanilla sugar to give the bread a sweet dimension of flavor - however, you can use regular granulated sugar just as well. Try not to over-mash the bananas, I find that it best when you can still see small bits and chunks rather than going for a smooth consistency. Besides helping to keep the bread extremely moist, the bananas do lend a nice, but subtle, banana flavor that matched well with the blueberries. Since we are out of season, I used frozen wild blueberries as I have a lot on hand in the freezer - but I will have to remember to make this bread again when I can get a hold of some fresh blueberries.

It gave off a wonderful sweet aroma while it was baking - as soon as Jeff walked in the door, I heard "I smell banana bread... where is it? I need to have a slice!" I loved how the vibrant blue dots are peppered throughout the golden slices without giving the loaf a purplish hue.

For dinner this evening, I made a recipe that could easily be considered a basic go-to recipe for lasagna. To start us off, we began by making a quick meat sauce for this Beef, Arugula and Spinach Lasagna. Ground sirloin and garlic are browned, then lightly seasoned with marinara sauce stirred in. I used some homemade sauce that I had in the freezer, but if you prefer ready made, feel free to use it. Before we begin to layer, we need to make the ricotta filling which consists of ricotta cheese, an egg, fresh basil, fresh oregano and a dash of red pepper flakes. While I always boil up lasagna noodles, this recipe called for the oven ready no-boil style (I used Barilla - the ones without any ridges) and I figured we would give them a go since we've never used them. Now that we had everything together, the messy, but fun layering can commence!

Meat sauce first, then noodles, the creamy ricotta, some fresh baby spinach, peppery arugula, mozzarella cheese and then process repeats until you finish with the rest of the meat sauce. Now, the original recipe called for a 11 1/2 by 8" dish - I had one and used it... but it was obscenely full! It needed to be covered, so to be safe I first covered it with a piece of parchment and then put on the foil. Even though it was full to the brim, we did not have any boil-over issues... whew! I might suggest a bigger pan next time to be on the safe side. After sitting for about 15 minutes, we were able to pull out nice, clean and fully assembled pieces that held their shape well. This was a such a stomach warming comfort dish - with the hearty meat sauce, creamy ricotta layers and it has the big plus of using a bunch of pantry staples - it could easily be thrown together without much thought. We did quite fancy the texture of the no boil noodles - I can see how could be much more handy rather than trying to deal with pasta you pre-cook.


  1. Your lasagna recipe sounds great, never thought about using fresh arugula, will have to try it. I recently discovered those Barilla no-bake noodles, it works so much better than using floppy pre-cooked noodles when assembling the lasagna. It also gives the lasagna a firmer texture when done-easier to cut.

  2. Mmmmm...I love arugula.

    I put arugula in the Italian Sausage Soup and while I liked the flavor a lot, the arugula was a bit stringy. Did you chop the arugula or just tear it?

    I was pleasantly surprised when I tried the Barilla no-bake noodles. I think they are much closer in texture to fresh pasta and easier to work with than pre-cooked - I don't think I'll ever use anything else.

  3. I use those noodles all the time. Even regular noodles dont need to be boiled first, they will still bake up nice and soft. They absorb the water from the sauce and soften up. One of the recent issues of Cook's Illustrated has a recipe for manicotti, using the no boil noodles. Kinda neat idea.

  4. George - Thanks!

    Alysha - Mine were already pretty small, but I did tear some of the large pieces.

    Randi - I'll have to look for the Manicotti one!