Friday, April 27, 2012

Calling All Caramel Lovers!

Since I'm not an ice cream lover, my kids have never really had the weekly family visit to the local ice cream parlor. I suppose it could be considered selfish, but unless someone else suggests a visit, I forget about ice cream until a birthday rolls around. However, within the last couple months our friends have introduced us to a fun and unique frozen yogurt experience. My main objection to an average ice cream (or frozen yogurt) parlor is that we're forced to choose a size of cup, and often even the child-size is way more than I want. I hate paying for a large portion of ice cream that I won't be able to eat.

My love of U-Swirl started when I realized that they charge by weight. Not by how heavy-handed the server is, but because it's a self-serve operation. The basic idea is for the customer to walk a buffet line of 20 frozen yogurt machines, filling their cup with any amount of all flavors they choose, then move on to a topping bar of around 50-60 toppings, ranging from Captain Crunch Cereal to fresh fruit. The last stop before weighing our masterpiece is the sauce bar, which is stocked with approximately 15 squeeze bottles of sauce; everything from fruit sauces to marshmallow cream. What's really great about having all these choices is getting a preschooler through this extensive line in less than 2 minutes. If I took either of my kids at this age to a standard ice cream parlor, it would take 10 minutes for them just to make an ice cream choice. By the time we got toppings on, we'd be fighting amongst ourselves, and Family Fun Night will have been officially called off. At the U-swirl register your treat is weighed and you pay for only what you've filled. My cups usually have a couple bites of a couple different flavors, maybe some waffle cone chips, and a drizzle of caramel. The kids' cups are always a disgusting looking mess, but their pride in creating such masterpieces is always worth the rolling of my stomach.

After a few visits to U-swirl, fully enjoying my caramel topping, I found a new recipe for Classic Caramel Sauce. Posted to by lululovesfood, this recipe is very simple to make, but does require some patience to melt the sugar without burning it. This caramel is so delicious that I wanted to put it over everything! As it turned out, my favorite use was for dipping green apple slices, but it also made a delicious copycat version of Shari's restaurant's Cinnamasation French Toast. I made a basic cinnamon French toast, then topped it with pecan pieces, maple syrup and a drizzle of caramel. Delicious! This caramel can easily be drizzled over popcorn, ice cream, pound cake or fruit. It's rich, but not too sweet, and with this recipe handy I'll never need to buy another jar of caramel sauce!

Classic Caramel Sauce

1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Measure and gather all three ingredients at the stove. Set a small, heavy sauce pan over medium/high heat. Add the cup of sugar, and begin stirring constantly. Melting the sugar may take a while but hang in there. Once it begins to melt it happens very quickly. When melted, the sugar will turn amber or light brown in color. Continue stirring constantly, and add the 6 Tablespoons of butter. The sauce will begin to bubble and foam a bit with the addition of the butter. When the butter is melted, stir in the 1/2 cup of whipping cream. Continue stirring to incorporate the cream, but the sauce will start to come together. Once it is all combined, turn down the heat and serve. Leftovers can be stored in a sealed jar or plastic container in the refrigerator. It can be re-heated for drizzling by setting the container in a pan of hot water for several minutes, a few seconds in the microwave, or eaten straight out of the fridge for dipping apples.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Banana French Toast - A new way to use an old banana

I know I'm not the only one that has experienced this scenario: I buy beautiful (still slightly green) bananas one day, only to find that splotchy brown color that kids refuse to eat, starting only a few days later.

I've tried almost all the tricks for extending the life of fresh bananas. I've taken them apart, kept them together, put them in special bags, and I’ve hung them. I’ve even pampered my bananas in the palm tree banana hammock. None of these techniques worked for any noticeable time, but there are two other options that I haven't tried yet. Supposedly, wrapping the perfectly ripened bananas in brown paper bags and refrigerating them will allow the skin to darken slowly, but the fruit will maintain that perfectly ripened flavor.
There is also a gadget I stumbled on called the Banana Bunker. It's a sturdy plastic container, shaped like a banana, with a section of bellows like a bendy straw. Storing your single banana in the Banana Bunker will allow your family to carry around a healthy snack in purses, backpacks or briefcases. I don't carry around bananas, so this is one gadget I won’t be testing out, but I did find it interesting.

I keep a Ziplock bag in the freezer, and just toss the bananas in as soon as they hit the ugly stage. Some folks prefer to remove the peel and chop them into chunks before freezing, but I only bother if I’m making pre-measured fruit smoothie mixes. When the banana is frozen, the skin turns black right away, but the fruit will be perfect for mashing when you’re ready for it. When ready, remove the number of bananas needed, and let them thaw for a few minutes before removing the skin. The bananas at this point will be mushy, and half mashed already, but that just saves me from doing all the mashing myself!
Often my frozen bananas will be in there for months before I feel like making anything with them, and occasionally I would like something different than bread or cake. That's where this recipe comes in!

Last weekend I had two of those ugly bananas to use up, and didn't feel like banana bread. I found this interesting recipe called Easy Banana French Toast, posted to by TheDangerChef and had to try it. I've seen lots of recipes for banana stuffed French toast, but I'd never seen a recipe that adds the banana right to the egg mix and uses it as part of the batter. My 5 year old mashed the bananas and measured the spices. I made some adjustments, other than just doubling the banana, to the original recipe. It needed more egg and the addition of some milk to cover six slices of sandwich bread, so you’ll find my version below. I served it with peanut butter, butter and maple syrup. My family LOVED it!

Banana Battered French Toast
2 bananas
2 eggs
¼ cup milk
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8-1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 slices bread

In a shallow bowl, mash bananas with a fork until most of the lumps are gone. Whisk in the eggs, spices and vanilla extract. Preheat a griddle (350°) or a frying pan and wipe down with a thin layer of canola oil, or spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Dip slices of bread into the egg and banana mixture and transfer to griddle. Cook 2-3 minutes on both sides, or until lightly browned.
Creative Commons License
TinksTreats by Lorilyn Tenney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License