March 31, 2010

magnolia's banana pudding (best ever banana pudding)

If you happened to see a girl walking along the streets of Manhattan, standing out because of a huge smile on her face (while many onlookers looked back amused) last week, that was me. Last week. We're just going to pretend that amid the week of 70 degree weather, the 5 day streak of rain and cold never happened. Did I mention I'm on spring break? And it's nothing at all like the movies you watch where you're on vacation in Florida (at least in the movies I watch) and it's 80 degrees and all you do is make your mouth blue by eating too much pie at the local pie eating contest.

But fortunately, Spring Break '10 (woohoo!- not so much) will end with me in Central Park this Saturday basking in the sun. So in this good cheer, I wanted to celebrate by going to Magnolia Bakery for some Banana Pudding. After seeing the size of the carton for sale, I realized that it would probably be more worth my while to just make it at home, a recipe among the many cookbooks I have that, much to my Mom's pleasure, i'll admit I never use.

So this way I can have a cup.

Or two.

And tell my teachers that the pudding stains all over my homework are really pencil shavings that somehow stuck onto the paper (and then offer to bring them some so they'll accept it anyway).

Magnolia's Famous Banana Pudding
from Allysa Torey's More From Magnolia Cookbook

One 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups ice cold water
One 3.4 oz package instant vanilla pudding mix (preferably Jell-O brand)
3 cups heavy cream
One 12oz box Nabisco Nilla Wafters (no substitutions!)
4 cups sliced ripe bananas

In a small bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat together the sweetened condensed milk and water until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the pudding mix and beat well, about 2 minutes more. Cover and refrigerate for 3-4 hours or overnight, before continuing. It is very important to allow the proper amount of time for the pudding mixture to set.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the pudding mixture into the whipped cream until well blended and no streaks of pudding remain.

To assemble the dessert, select a large, wide bowl (preferably glass) with a 4-5-quart capacity. Arrange one-third of the wafers to cover the bottom of the bowl, overlapping if necessary, then one-third of the bananas and one-third of the pudding. Repeat the layering twice more, garnishing with additional wafers or wafer crumbs on the top layer of the pudding. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours-or up to 8 hours, but no longer!-before serving.

March 27, 2010

banana cupcakes

This week, my mom left for Asia on a business trip, and my sister went back up to college after spending a week at home for spring break. I asked my mom to take me with her but unfortunately she saw no upside in "letting me loose" upon the streets of Asia to stare at all of the out-of-the ordinary foods on display (while being alone and English speaking). So I packed my bags and not at all grudgingly headed off to Queens to stay with my dad. We're having quite the time here, eating chicken parm and nutella sandwiches for lunch, and driving to school in the morning (although maybe not so much my dad, since this requires him to leave his house at 7:30). Did I say nutella? Yum. 

While packing a few of my bags I realized I hadn't blogged about a dessert in the longest time; how could this be, I thought; dessert is an essential (and daily) part of my diet! I can't go on giving off the impression that I'm some healthy eater who only eats baked goods in moderation; pshh, no, I cannot. Resolving to waste no more time, I made banana cupcakes with peanut butter frosting and oh, what a mess they made; I spent the following hour trying to clean the banana out of my KitchenAid mixer because it flew (yes, it flew, as the mixer was on high speed) right out of the bowl. Seeing as I was the only one at my house left (and although I love my dessert, I doubted my ability to go through 12 cupcakes in about 4 days- before they go bad), I packed them up and brought them to school because let's face it, ever since bake sales were banned from schools kids want dessert-y deliciousness more than ever. My friends, no sooner than getting on the bus, had eyed the container in my hands and demanded immediate distribution of whatever it was I had made. 
I know I've been sounding like a broken record lately, but I've been on a "recipe roll." These cupcakes were amazing; people I didn't know came up to me in the hallway and told me that they had had a bite of their friend's cupcake, heard I had made it, and had "just wanted to say that it was the best cupcake they've ever had." Us cooks always wave off these remarks, say thank you, and put on a modest face, but you know we know that our food is that darn good. You don't have to tell us twice (and you probably won't be able to, because I wouldn't spare another cupcake). 

Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting
from Bon Appetit, April 2010 issue


  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 very ripe large bananas, peeled
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk


  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (do not use old-fashioned or freshly ground)
  • Chopped lightly salted roasted peanuts (optional)


  • Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line 12 standard (1/3-cup) muffin cups with paper liners. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Mash bananas with fork in another medium bowl until smooth. Mix sour cream and vanilla into bananas.

  • Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and egg yolk and beat until well blended. Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with banana-sour cream mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating just until blended after each addition. Divide batter among prepared muffin cups (generous 1/4 cup for each).

  • Bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center of each comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer cupcakes to rack and let cool completely.


  • Sift powdered sugar into large bowl. Add cream cheese, butter, and peanut butter. Using electric mixer, beat mixture until smooth. Spread frosting over top of cupcakes, dividing equally. Sprinkle lightly with chopped peanuts, if desired. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

March 17, 2010


Lately I've been finding myself unusually unmotivated in school. Instead, I've been focusing my energy more on cooking, except when last week I wanted to make rainbow cookies (you know, those delicious red-green-yellow cakey cookies from the supermarket) and was later greeted by my mom coming home with a box of the very same cookies. My cooking ambitions were further delayed.We're big eaters over at the Piece of Cake, if you hadn't caught on. My mom and I in particular live to nibble every last bite of meat off the meat of the bones of whatever we're eating. It would be embarassing if it wasn't so darn delicious (especially at restaurants, when it couldn't be more obvious that we're cutting-chicken-with-a-knife amateurs). And if you don't know, the best meat dish of all for a bone-nibbler is osso buco, or braised veal shanks. Although I don't much care for the tate of red meat (I eat it about once every year), Marcella Hazan's osso buco milanese style makes me tear slightly about when I will eat it again- of course it's always gone by the end of the meal.My Grandma, who, quite frankly, has a hard time resisting the sales at Stop and Shop, always buys 1 veal shank at a time when it's discounted and stores it in her freezer until the next sale, at which point she buys another, and gradually builds up a supply in her fridge. At which point, my mom and I visit, and leave with a bag of food (as usual)- when opportunity strikes, it includes the two-years' worth of savings of veal shanks. But nowadays, my Grandma claims to not have any left in her freezer, so we have to buy our own from Fresh Direct (although we all know it's stashed away in there somewhere).
This used to be my favorite dish as a child (I had a very sophisticated palate, as you can tell), and I would go on about it year after year. I've never made it before now because my mom usually does, but It definitely requires a good amount of work before a long cooking period. The result was a little brothy for my taste because I went a bit over on the liquid, but it was incredibly flavorful and tender. We need not have used a knife to cut the meat, which, of course, I take full pride in.

Ossobuco alla Milanese (oss bus)
from Marcella Hazan's The Classic Italian Cookbook

For 6 persons
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
2/3 cup finely chopped carrot
2/3 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
2 strips lemon peel
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 shanks veal, sawed into 8 pieces about 2 inches long, each securely tied around the middle
3/4 cup all purpose flour, spread on a plate or on waxed paper
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups meat broth
1 1/2 cups canned Italian tomatoes coarsely chopped, with their juice
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
4 leaves fresh basil (optional)
2 bay leaves
2 or 3 sprigs parsley
Freshly ground pepper, about 6 twists of the mill
Salt, if necessary

Preheat the oven to 350ยบ.

Choose a heavy casserole with a tight fitting lid that is just large enough to contain the veal pieces later in a single layer. (If you do not have a casserole large enough for all the veal, use two small ones, dividing the chopped vegetables and butter in two equal parts, but adding 1 extra tablespoon of butter per casserole.) Put in the onion, carrot, celery, and butter and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables soften and wilt. Add the chopped garlic and lemon peel at the end. Remove from the heat.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Turn the trussed pieces of veal in the flour, shaking off any excess. When the oil is quite hot (test it with the corner of one of the pieces of veal: a moderate sizzle means the heat is just right), brown the veal on all sides. (Brown the veal as soon as it has been dipped in flour, otherwise the flour may dampen and the meat won't brown properly.) Stand the pieces of veal side by side on top of the vegetables in the casserole.

Tip the skillet and draw off nearly all the fat with a spoon. Add the wine and boil briskly for about 3 minutes, scraping up and loosening any browning residue stuck to the pan. Pour over the pieces of veal in the casserole.

In the same skillet, bring the broth to a simmer and pour into the casserole. Add the chopped tomatoes with their juice, the thyme, basil, bay leaves, parsley, pepper, and salt. (Hold off on salt until after cooking if you are using canned beef broth. It is sometimes very salty.) The broth should come up to the top of the veal pieces. If it does not, add more.

Bring the contents of the casserole to a simmer on top of the stove. Cover tightly and place in the lower third of the preheated oven. Cook for about 2 hours, carefully turning and basting the veal pieces every 20 minutes. When done, they should be very tender when pricked with a fork, and their sauce should be dense and creamy. (If, while the veal is still cooking, there is not enough liquid in the casserole, you may add up to 1/3 cup of warm water. If the reverse is true, and the sauce is too thin when the veal is done, remove the meat to a warm platter, place the uncovered casserole on top of the stove, and over high heat briskly boil the sauce until it thickens.) Pour the sauce over the veal and serve piping hot. Garnish with parsley.

When transferring the veal pieces to the serving platter, carefully remove the trussing strings without breaking up the shanks.

March 10, 2010

red velvet cake

        My mom turned 50 this week (I had to get permission before posting this) and she did not want any sort of a hoopla. Her first instinct was "NO NO NO" to any sort of friendly gathering of more than 2 people, which soon turned into "well maybe I want to see a friend..." to a day before her birthday "I called a few of my friends to see if they wanted to meet us for dinner." Now, if I had known, I would have planned a hoopla, I really would've. But we had a nice time anyway; my sister, mom and I went out to dinner at Ouest, a French-American restaurant near our house. Of course I was the annoying customer who, after ordering, hurredly called the waiter back just in the nick-of-time to change it. Oh, but did I mention it was gnocchi-short rib-and ricotta delicious? And the creamed spinach with gorgonzola? In my defense, the table was unusually close to the chairs, meaning that I was too close to the spinach for anyone's good. I could have sworn it was saying "emilyy." As vegetables usually do.

        After dinner, the celebration was postponed until the next day, when our family made a trip (or a once-every-decade pilgrimage) into the city to visit us. My aunt, uncle, 3 cousins (one of whom would like me to take note that, it was a "great day for a great day," If that means anything to anyone for some reason or other), and grandparents came over for dinner. My mom made 3lbs of baked ziti, which turned out to be more pasta than needed for an Italian family of 11 people. Who were hungry. It was delicious; even my Grandma, who normally won't eat anything anyone else makes, snuck a bite of pasta before it came out of the oven. She couldn't resist- I think my mom deserves a medal. And not to shift the focus away from the birthday girl, but I made some kick-butt broccoli rabe with sausage. I'll take a medal as well.

        Oh, but the cake. I swooned for the cake. Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting; I had made it before, but this time, it turned out magically. I had always thought that cake flour was not a necessary ingredient- how different could it be from regular flour, right? Wrong. It makes the texture just right. It was incredibly moist, velvetly, smooth, not too sweet, not too decadent, and just perfect enough to convert cake haters. And oh, did it ever. - I used to be one of them. I hate dry cake, and only until recently did I see the light that is red velvet. I hope you can too.

Red Velvet Cake
From The Confetti Cakes Cookbook via Smitten Kitchen