Posts Tagged ‘The Classics’

The Classics: Banana Pecan Bread


According to Starbucks the holiday season has officially arrived.  Here in Los Angeles, however, the temperature reached 97° so I feel entitled to say that I will be easing my way into the holiday deep end.  The winter fruit and nut pies beckoning from the cover of this month’s Martha look like artifacts from another world— albeit an inviting one.  But our banana bread, which we wrap in holiday ribbons and bows for clients and friends, works for me whatever the weather.

Lydia found this recipe in Virginia WillisBon Appétit Y’All, a serious cookbook with a charmingly light title.  After making this bread you’ll probably reach the same conclusion I did: in a time of relentless self-promotion— says the blogger— the ever-gracious Willis buries her own lede. Which would read in this case Exceptional southern chef makes killer food.

Virginia is a kitchen warrior, with years of culinary education and experience (many of which were spent with Martha) to prove it.  All we needed was one bite of her banana bread.

Lydia tweaked this recipe by adding vanilla extract.  In four years, we’ve never even tried another banana bread.  Make this and just try to imagine using a different recipe while the smell of warm, buttery bananas fills your kitchen.

Let me know how that works out for you ; )


Banana Pecan Bread

Makes one 9-inch loaf


1-1/4c flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

3 ripe bananas

1/2 cup pecans


Preheat the oven to 350°.  Lightly grease a 9-inch loaf pan

In a large bowl, sift together the flour and baking soda.  In a separate bowl, cream the salt, butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add the eggs, one by one, beating well after each addition.  Add the vanilla and mashed-up banana.  Mix until just combined.

Fold the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined.  Fold in the pecans.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan, using a spatula to smooth out the top.  Bake until the top is dark golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out almost clean, about 1-1/4 hours.

Cake will keep, wrapped tightly for 4 days.

The Classics: Chocolate Cake


This, my pretties, is not a new recipe.  It may even be familiar to you A & O faithful.  But because I use it at least once a month and because my last photo was heinous and failed to showcase the pools of fudgy frosting I adore, I’m sharing this with you once again.  It makes 48 mini cupcakes, 24 regular-sized and 1 9-inch round cake with batter left over (or 1 9-inch plus a 6-inch round cake for a two-layer chocolate cakeaganza).  It goes gluten free without a hitch.  Flexibility is part of its charm.

Our pal Beth photographed my last batch with blue sprinkles.  Tonight I’m topping them with orange sprinkles and little white ghosts for a Halloween-themed progressive dinner.  I’ll also be serving some of Ina’s blood-red velvet minis.  The recipe’s in her new cookbook.

You need this and one good flourless chocolate cake recipe and you’re good-to-go chocolate-wise for life.


Buttermilk Chocolate Cake


2 sticks unsalted butter

1/2 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder (I like Droste or Green & Black)

1 cup water

2 cups AP flour (or gluten-free equivalent)

2 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup buttermilk

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (for the gluten-free version, I use 2 teaspoon vanilla extract and a tablespoon of espresso to cover the chickpea flavor of the gluten-free flour.  You can add espresso to the traditional recipe as well)


1/2 stick unsalted butter

1/4 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder (I like Droste or Green & Black)

3 tablespoons buttermilk

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

you can also add 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or other nuts to the frosting if desired.

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Butter and flour the cake pan of your choice or line your cupcake tins.

2. Make the cake.  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in the cocoa powder and water.  Bring to a boil them remove from the heat.  Let cool.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.   Add the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla.  Blend well using a hand held mixer or a strong hand and whisk.  Add the cooled cocoa mixture, stirring until just combined. The batter will be thinner than regular cake batters, but this only means you are on your way to making a great cake.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean, about 20-25 minutes for large cakes, about 12-15 for cupcakes and 8-10 for minis.  Let cool completely  before frosting.

4.  Make the frosting.  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in the cocoa powder and buttermilk.  Bring to a boil then remove from the heat and let cool.  Pour into a large mixing bowl.

5.  Using a handheld mixer, beat the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and walnuts into the cocoa mixer.  Mix until thoroughly combined and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Pour or spread over cooled cake.  The frosting will set into a shiny glaze that crackles like thin ice when you cut into it.  Beautiful.

6. The secret step.  Wrap the cooled and frosted cake loosely in cling wrap and refrigerate it, even if only for an hour or so before serving.   Whereas refrigerating tends to dry out baked goods, it dampens this cake so that it’s amazingly dark, dense and moist, just how I envisioned mud pies when I was little.

The Classics- Basic Vinaigrette


This is my everyday vinaigrette recipe. I modify the vinegar to complement the flavor and texture of different lettuces but the basic recipe always stays the same. Throw out your bottled dressings (filled with sugar, chemicals and unhealthy oils) and make some of this once a week!

vinaigrette ingedients

The triumvirate of vinaigrette ingredients…according to me. Vinaigre de Banyuls, Maldon sea salt and Grey Poupon Dijon mustard. I just shake it all up in a saved mustard jar and store it in my fridge all week.

vinaigre de banyuls

In my opinion Banyuls vinegar is the perfect “salad dressing” vinegar. It’s tart like red wine vinegar but with WAY more depth of flavor. It is available at Whole Foods and other specialty markets.

vinaigrette close up

Basic Vinaigrette

make about 1/4 cup

1 tablespoon vinegar (sherry wine, Banyuls, champagne, red wine, white wine and apple cider vinegars all work interchangeably with this recipe)

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon sea salt (use 1/8 tsp. if using kosher salt)

freshly ground black pepper- 2-3 twists of the pepper mill

1 1/2 teaspoons finely minced shallots or garlic (optional)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a bowl and whisk until well combined. Allow to sit aside for 5-10 minutes so the salt can dissolve in the vinegar. Then slowly whisk in the olive oil until well emulsified OR just shake it all up in a jar with the lid closed tightly.

To gussy up this simple recipe try these additions…

add a tablespoon of mayonnaise, vegenaise or heavy cream if you want the vinaigrette a tad creamy, say for baby gem lettuces.

add 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs like tarragon, parsley, oregano or chives.

The Classics- Tomato Sauce


Once month I do an informal “cooking lesson” with my girlfriends. They come over and we make a simple dinner together, they ask me tons of cooking questions as we go and then they leave with the recipe. This BASIC tomato sauce recipe from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, is by far the most useful they have learned. Mary said she finally feels confident in her kitchen with this dish under her belt!

San Marzano tomato tins

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan

Yield: Enough sauce for about 1 pound of pasta, or 4 servings

One 28-oz. can whole, peeled, canned plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juices (preferably imported San Marzano tomatoes)

5 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in half

dash of red chili flakes (optional)

Salt, to taste

Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter, and the onion halves in a medium saucepan. Add a big pinch or two of salt and the chili flakes if desired. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, at a very low simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary, for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free from the tomato. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and salt as needed.

Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta.  If you like smooth sauce then run it through your blender before serving. This recipe has worked well using cubed or crushed plum tomatoes if that’s all you have on hand.


This recipe will break your $8 jarred tomato sauce habit. It is the answer to “what should I make for dinner without having to go to the store for groceries?” It elevates simple spaghetti noodles to dinner party status. It is fantastic over grilled chicken, sauteed with turkey meat and then stuffed into bell peppers or to used to jazz up steamed vegetables.

Better pictures and more eloquent description of this fantastic sauce seen here and here.

I hope this inspires you to make more dinners at home as it did for my girlfriends, Bon Appetit!