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Velvet Banana Bread – my blue ribbon winner!


It all started in 2009 when I entered the foods competitions at the Kansas State Fair for the first time, and met a wonderful & talented woman named Colleen Woker.  We met while watching the pie judging and I asked her if she’d won any ribbons in the other competitions. She listed off approximately 241 things she’d placed in, including getting “Best in Show” for her banana bread, which as far as I understand means that her banana bread was so good, that the judges deemed it better than anything else submitted for judging in the foods competitions. I mean, it beat cakes!  CAKES! I was so impressed by her and in that moment, knew that some day I had to get myself a blue ribbon in the banana bread competition.  Little did I know it would become nearly an obsession.

In my quest to win a blue ribbon, I’ve made over fifty different banana bread recipes, and no matter how hard I tried to find the best, most perfect banana bread, the highest I ever placed was 3rd.  I really thought I was doomed to never get my blue ribbon, or even a red one.  This year I had no idea what recipe I was going to make until the day before the competition.  In fact, I had even forgotten to buy bananas in advance to let them get super duper ripe, and all I had was bananas that were still green at the stems.  Not acceptable!

I posted a last minute plea on Facebook for rotten bananas and was given some by two wonderful women (thank you Lacey & Lisa!), enough to make a practice loaf or two if I could find the time.  I decided to take my best good friend, Jackie‘s, advice and replace the pumpkin in my most favoritest pumpkin bread recipe with bananas, which she has been doing for a year.  That recipe has 1/2 cup of water in it, which I’d never ever seen in all the banana bread recipes I’ve read in my search for the perfect one, and I was so scared to try it.  I asked her probably five times, “Do you really put the water in it when you make it? REALLY?” She assured me she did, and that it wasn’t wet or gummy, but really similar in texture to the pumpkin bread.  That sold me, because that soft texture is the ultimate for me in a quick bread.

Despite my deep fears of including the water, and the temptation to replace it with something more exciting like milk or pineapple juice, I gave her idea a go, adding a touch of cardamom, and was absolutely floored by the result.  I had never in my life had such tender, soft banana bread.  And so delicious, sweet & perfectly banana-y with a the perfect balance of spices to set it off.  Unfortunately, it was one of the uglier loaves I’d ever made, and since 25% of the judging score was based on appearance, I lost all hope right there.  Because I knew it was too good not to submit, but also knew it was too ugly to win a blue ribbon. I just hoped it was good enough to win a red.

So many things went wrong in making the official loaf and my spirits sunk deeper and deeper with each obstacle. I kept questioning why I was even bothering.  This wasn’t the regular little banana bread competition, this one was sponsored by King Arthur Flour and the first place prize was a $150 gift card to their catalog, which is much bigger than the usual $9 prize.  This was a big deal, and more people would be entering than usual.  I didn’t have a chance! I was exhausted, would have loved to sleep in the next morning, didn’t want to waste the gas or the effort when I knew it was hopeless, but I’d been in the paper about the being the Banana Bread Queen Wannabe, and everyone on Facebook knew about it.  I had to go.

When I arrived to submit my bread, I noticed that everyone around me had loaves that were the same dark shiny brown, which I found unattractive.  That made me feel a little better, until I looked to see if any of my other three baked goods I’d already turned in had placed, and they hadn’t.  I knew it was going to be my very first no-ribbon year, and I went home defeated, knowing my quest might never end.

But when we returned to the fair as a family two days later, there it was. My ugly brown banana bread sitting front and center.  Next to a blue ribbon.

I squealed. I hopped around.  I squealed and hopped some more.  I think there was a lot of, “I can’t believe it!!”  I gushed my entire banana bread story to the poor couple standing nearby when my freak out started.  They were so happy for me, but everyone else looked pretty perturbed & disturbed by my antics.  I stopped myself several times from running up to random people to tell them I won.  Joshua was grinning and giggling, clearly trying to figure out what had Mom so excited.  I took his hands and we did a little celebration dance together.  When Dennis approached us (he’d been in the bathroom), I wanted to let him discover it on his own but I just couldn’t contain myself and as soon as I saw him I beamed and jumped up and down and waved him over, pointing wildly at the display case where my winning bread resided. He knew instantly of course what that meant, and he hopped up and down with me a little in celebration.  Joshua was so happy to see all the happiness and I was so happy, and Dennis was so happy, I thought all our heads might explode.

It took six years and countless loaves of banana bread, but I did it. The blue ribbon is MINE! Thanks be to God, to Jackie, Lisa, Lacey, and to Colleen for not entering the banana bread competition this year and giving me a chance.  And to everyone who has rooted for me all these years, thank you!!  My quest is complete and I couldn’t be happier to have found my very favorite recipe for banana bread and gotten the blue for it so that I never have to try another recipe again.  I’m so DONE with new banana bread recipes.  This one is definitely my new favorite, and I truly may never make another recipe again.

Velvet Banana Bread

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1 cup (8 oz) mashed overripe banana
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (4 1/8 oz) vegetable oil
1/2 cup (4 oz) water
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups (7 1/2 oz) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large mixing bowl, combine banana, sugar, vegetable oil, water, and eggs. Whisk until well mixed. Measure the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, nutmeg, and cloves into a separate bowl and stir until combined. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the banana mixture, beating until smooth. Mixture will be very very thin and it’s OK to mix until no flour streaks remain, but if you see little lumps of flour that won’t mix out, don’t sweat it, they will dissolve while baking and overmixing will make this tender loaf tough and dry.

Spray the bottom of a 9×5 loaf pan and pour batter in (if your pan sticks, go ahead and grease the whole thing). Bake for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately remove from pan, and cool at least 15 minutes before slicing. Remove from pan immediately and allow to cool at least 15 minutes on a wire rack before slicing. Cool completely before wrapping leftovers in plastic wrap.

Veronica’s notes: If you aren’t measuring your ingredients on a scale, please use a very light hand when measuring the flour, spooning it gently into the cup and not packing it at all before leveling it.

Also, I only left the sides of my pan ungreased because the state fair judges have disqualified me in the past for greasing the whole pan. According to them, this is a baking sin and the sides of your bread will be much more tender if you grease only the bottom. This works fine with my new nifty galifty USA Loaf Pan because it’s crazy nonstick, but if you have any other not fabulously non-stick pan, you’d better go ahead and grease the sides. I honestly can’t tell a difference in the finished loaf whether the sides have been greased or not, the judges need to chill.

Speaking of loaf pans, be sure to use a large 9×5 as this is too much batter for an 8×4 loaf pan.  If you only have a small loaf pan, make some muffins with the extra batter, but don’t fill your pan more than 3/4 full.

Lastly, if you overbake your loaf a bit (I did on the one photographed, by a couple minutes because I was busy when the timer went off), don’t forget my water trick. It works on quick breads as well as cakes! Spray the sides and bottom well with water, don’t be shy with it, and it will all absorb while cooling and soften those hardened edges right up.

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Favorite Cornbread


With three different cornbread recipes on my blog already, you might think I was cornbread crazed since I’m adding another.  Well, I guess maybe I am.  Growing up, we practically lived off of beans and cornbread during the winter months.  Plain pinto beans with no spices save salt, and whole wheat cornbread that was dry, not sweet at all, and was perfect for absorbing copious amounts of salty butter.  It might not sound particularly tasty, but we loved it.  I think it was the magic of butter, which we surprisingly were allowed to consume without limits since Grandpa deemed it a healthy fat and Mom learned all her health-nut ways from  him.  So we loved our beans and butter, er, cornbread.

This cornbread is the antithesis of the cornbread I was raised on, and truth be told, the first time I made it I was completely aghast that Mel dared to call it cornbread.  This wasn’t cornbread, this was cake.  And her whipped honey butter? The frosting!

But everyone (I brought it for a chili day at work) loooved it.  I didn’t bring the honey butter the first year and at first, some were disappointed, but after tasting it said, “This doesn’t even need butter!”  It really doesn’t.  It practically melts in your mouth, it is so soft and moist.  I noticed when I brought the honey butter last year they barely touched it.  The cornbread is perfect on its own but if you really think you need some sweet butter, go to Mel’s blog for her unique recipe, which includes marshmallow fluff and is very good.

Anyway, after making this for others for two years and taking little tastes, I finally made it just for us for the first time last week when the temps were cooler and I wanted something to go with some ham & bean soup.  I have to say, I’m a convert.  Sorry, Mom.  This is definitely my new favorite and I have to tell you, Dennis is gaga for this stuff and he would never eat any of my cornbread before, not even Jiffy mix, which is similar to this, just not as soft.  The Lighter Northern Cornbread recipe on my blog is also crazy good, but it’s lower in fat and sugar so it’s not quite as melt-in-your mouth.  If you’re looking for some full fat goodness, I gotcha covered.

Favorite Cornbread

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1 ½ cups (6 ¼ oz) all-purpose flour
½ cup (3 oz) corn meal
2/3 cup (5 oz) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1 ¼ cups milk

Preheat oven to 350F.  Spray an 8×8 baking dish with oil; set aside.  Whisk together dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl, make a well and add oil, butter, eggs, and milk into the center. Stir well until mixed (batter will be runny – don’t be alarmed!). Pour into prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes. This doubles perfectly for a 9X13-inch pan, but will have to be baked longer (start checking after 45 minutes-I can’t remember how long it took when I doubled it in previous years).

Recipe source: Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

Basic Buttermilk Biscuits & Sausage Gravy


Happy Monday, my Cornicopi-cats! :)  Today I was just going to share my basic recipe for buttermilk biscuits, but I figured you can’t have biscuits without sausage gravy. OK, so you can, you can have them plain, with butter, with jam, with honey, but once in a while you gotta get your sausage gravy on.  Is it a custom where you live to eat biscuits smothered in sausage or country gravy?  If not, you must try it, at least once.  This is straight up comfort food for me.

I make my biscuits two ways, depending on how much time I want to spend on them.  The first way includes a little bit of folding the dough over and then cutting into rounds. This yields a taller, layered biscuit.  The second way is just dropping the dough onto a baking sheet, then patting it into place with floured hands.  Either way, they are soft and so tender–some seriously good eatin’.

Basic Buttermilk Biscuits

Makes 8-10 biscuits
Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
¾ cup cold buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment.

Measure the dry ingredients into a food processor or bowl and pulse once to combine. Pulse or cut in the butter and shortening until fats are the size of peas. Dump the contents into a bowl and stir in the buttermilk until dough is moistened.  You can pulse to combine in the food processor, but it is too easy to overwork the dough so I like to stir it in by hand.  At this point you can either 1) drop the dough in mounds the size of your choice onto prepared baking sheet. With floured hands, pat the tops and sides of the dough until they take on more of a shaped appearance.

Or 2) dump dough onto a floured surface and lightly flour the top.  Knead a few times (careful, don’t knead more than ten turns) and roll out to 1” thick.  Using a 2 ½” biscuit cutter or glass, cut out rounds going straight up and down without twisting the cutter, place on baking sheet, and brush tops with beaten egg if desired (this will make the tops golden but doesn’t change the flavor).  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Serve warm with butter, jelly, or…

Suzie’s Sausage Gravy

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Printable recipe with picture

1 lb. good quality sausage roll, like Bob Evans
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
salt and black pepper to taste
Prepared biscuits

Crumble and cook sausage in large skillet over medium heat until browned. Stir in flour until dissolved. Gradually stir in milk. Cook gravy until thick and bubbly. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot over biscuits. Refrigerate leftovers.

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Balsamic Vinegar & Garlic Glazed Flat Iron Steak

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I have a significant backlog of recipes waiting to be blogged, but I made this one yesterday and two things prevailed upon me to post it immediately:

1) This week’s BSI (blogger secret ingredient) is beef so this is perfect timing to submit it for the contest, and

2) It’s so delicious, I couldn’t wait!

Fish aside, I’m not much for meat.  I’ll put a bite on my plate, then fill the rest with dessert vegetables and potatoes, etc.  Then I usually share what little meat is on my plate with Jessie.  But this steak was so delicious I was sneaking bites of it from the platter before Dennis came home and almost couldn’t stop myself.  Between us, we ate an entire 1-lb flat iron steak in one sitting.  It was just incredible.

Dennis was beside himself.  “How did you get it so juicy?  What did you do to this?  This is so good.  What did you put on it?  THIS is the best steak I’ve ever eaten.”  “Even over the steak au poivre?” I asked.  “Yes, even over that one.”  An hour after eating, Dennis looked over at me and said, “That steak was really, really good.”

This recipe was inspired by my friend, Suzie*, who shared a recipe for Balsamic & Garlic Glazed Strip Steaks with me last summer.  At the time, I knew my hubby would love it but I didn’t think I’d ever use it.  Then I happened to pick up a flat iron steak because it was on sale and because I’d never heard of it before.  I had NO idea what I was going to do with it so I searched all the recipes I had for steak to get some ideas, and found Suzie’s.  The marinade was just PERFECT for this steak.

*Suzie just started her own food blog this week!  If you’ve been reading long, you’ve seen many recipes on my blog from her.  She’s a great cook with a great sense of humor.  Check her out here!

Flat iron steak is the second most tender cut of meat, next to the tenderloin, and that obviously helped with the resulting steak.  The acid from the balsamic vinegar also tenderizes it a bit during the marination process, so you’re left with an incredibly juicy and tender piece of meat.  The marinade is simple but just perfect.  I couldn’t believe how delicious it made the meat!

Balsamic Vinegar & Garlic Glazed Flat Iron Steak

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

½ cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 (1 lb) flat iron steak
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper

In a small bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar, olive oil and garlic. Reserve ¼ cup marinade and pour the rest in a large Ziploc bag. Put the steak in, press out the air and zip it up. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour before grilling.

Meanwhile, light your charcoal mound in the grill (yes, I was grilling yesterday-the weather was so nice!) and then spread the coals out once the fire dies and they get ashy around the sides. Remove steak from bag, discard marinade. Salt and pepper steaks. Grill covered for ten minutes on each side for medium-well, brushing with extra marinade while it cooks.

Set grilled steak on a platter, tent with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes so juices can recirculate throughout the meat. Enjoy!

Recipe source: adapted from Suzie S.

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