Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Banana, Macadamia Nut, Coconut Coffee Cake

Greetings, Dear Cook’s Tour Readers. 

Hope you are all doing OK.  Here in Puerto Rico we’re hunkered down like the rest of the world, trying to stay healthy and keep our anxieties at bay regarding Covid-19. 

As I’m sure you know (if you’ve read any of my posts), when I feel anxious or stressed, my go-to escape is baking. For me, it is a total disconnect from the daily blare of the news, everyday annoyances, or just the blahs. I put on some great tunes and get to work!

For the last few days, I’ve been eyeing the rapidly ripening bananas on my counter. I didn’t want to make a typical banana bread recipe, I wanted something a little more comforting and satisfying. And I found it in a Leite’s Culinaria recipe from 2018 that I had squirreled away in my EverNotes recipe file. The bonus was that I had all the ingredients in-house (a necessity nowadays). 

This cake was absolutely delicious, and was everything I was looking for in this #quarantinebaking moment. It was super moist, richly flavored thanks to the ripe bananas, shredded coconut, and a not overly sweet cinnamon-pecan topping, with a terrific texture that I can only describe as light and fluffy. 
The original recipe calls for macadamia nuts (which I didn’t have on hand) or pecans. It also calls for a dark rum or amaretto liqueur - I used Bacardi Ocho, purchased during a fun Bacardi factory tour a few months ago.

So many of us are feeling sad or overwhelmed right now. To pass the time & focus on other things, we’ve been watching alot (ALOT) of movies & TV series (Ozark, My Brilliant Friend, Bombshell, Richard Jewell, Homeland, and Madam CJ Walker, to name a few), reading, walking within our complex, and of course, cooking and baking. What are you doing during this #stayathome period to take care of yourself? 

I leave you with these words from the Italian Prime Minister that I found comforting & uplifting:

“Teniamoci distanti oggi per abbracciarci piĆ¹ forte domani.” “Let’s keep our distance today so we can hug each other more strongly tomorrow.”

Take good care of yourself and each other!

Banana, Macadamia Nut, and Coconut Coffee Cake (from Leite's Culinaria)

by Lou Seibert Pappas

Makes one 9-inch cake

Toasty, sweet macadamia nuts and cinnamon sugar top this flavorful banana cake laced with flaky coconut. It’s especially moist. Select well-ripened sugar-sweet bananas for best flavor.—Lou Seibert Pappas

A surefire way to recognize when the bananas are perfectly ripe is to look for a bunch that’s speckled with dark spots. If all you can find are neon green bunches, fear not. Simply let the bananas rest on the counter, not in the fridge. In a few days they’ll be ideal.—David Leite

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/4 cups mashed bananas (about 2 1/2 large, ripe bananas)
2 large eggs
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (choose a buttery, mild one) or canola oil
2 tablespoons dark rum or amaretto liqueur
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) chopped macadamia nuts or pecan halves
1 tablespoon granulated sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan or round cake pan.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and brown sugar. Stir to blend. In a blender or food processor, combine the bananas, eggs, oil, rum or amaretto, sour cream, and vanilla and blend until smooth. Add the banana mixture to the dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Stir in the coconut.
3. Spread evenly in the prepared pan and sprinkle evenly with the nuts. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the batter.
4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack, then remove the pan sides. Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Chia Fruit Breakfast Parfait

Morning in Puerto Rico
Greetings, Cook's Tour Readers!

Banana Bread (not ready for prime time)
I hope you are all doing OK during these stressful times. If you’re like me, you might be looking for new recipes to try while sequestered at home. During the last week, I’ve made a tried-and-true cookie, a brand new banana bread (that I wasn’t entirely happy with so I won’t share with you just yet), and this quick, easy, and tasty breakfast parfait. 
Chocolate Almond (GF) Shortbread Cookies

Before the corona virus pandemic, we were lucky enough to spend a week sailing the gorgeous British Virgin Islands. Our chef for the week (the Captain’s wife, Lesley) wowed us every day with fabulous meals, while Captain Mike steered the catamaran to various beautiful coves (and plied us with terrific cocktails in the evening) where we whiled away the day snorkeling, swimming, reading, or just relaxing. It was heavenly. 
Light lunch, day 1, aboard Exta-Sea
Tuna Poke with avocado, edamame, cucs, carrots
Good morning from Leinster Bay!

I absolutely loved the breakfast parfait she served one morning, and I couldn’t wait to reproduce it at home. I had never used chia seeds before but knew they supposedly had excellent health benefits. Here’s a reprint from Harvard with some great info on chia seeds. 

Now that I see the benefits and how easy they are to use, I will be exploring other ways to incorporate them into our diet. For now, I’m loving this parfait, topped with fresh pineapple, mango, blueberries, and bananas. 

I leave you with these thoughts: stay well, stay vigilant, practice “physical” distancing. Stay in touch with “your people,” help those that need it. As the great Maya Angelou said, “every storm runs out of rain.” We will get through this.
Chia Fruit Breakfast Parfait (Lesley Blanchard)

1 can coconut milk
1/4 cup chia seeds
1 tsp vanilla essence
sweetener of choice to taste (I use generous 1 TB honey)

Mix together and refrigerate overnight. 

Spoon some chia cream in the bottom of a glass, add fresh fruit of choice, top with another dollop of chia cream. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Lemon Spice Visiting Cake

Lemon Spice Visiting Cake

Those of you who read The Cook’s Tour regularly, know that I love, LOVE, warm, comforting cakes - coffee cakes, pound cakes, tea cakes, quick breads - you get the idea. Given a choice, I will always take this kind of baked good over a sweet layer cake or gooey pastry. 

So last week when we had some good friends visiting us here in sunny Puerto Rico, I knew I had to bake up something delicious to nibble on during their stay. I had purchased a giant bag of lemons at Costco the week before, and you know what they say…when life gives you lemons…NO, you don’t make lemonade, you bake a lemon cake! After scouring the thousands of recipes in my files, I decided on Dorie Greenspan’s Lemon Spice Visiting Cake. One, because it sounded like it would be fabulous, and two, the title evokes everything I love about baking - the act of sharing something you baked to welcome people to your home, or bringing it with you to a friend. 

This cake has it all - it’s luscious, easy to prepare, keeps very well, can be used as a sweet treat post-breakfast (as we did), for a midnight snack (as we did, with a glass of wine - don’t judge), an afternoon treat, or you could dress it up with some berries and whipped cream for a semi-formal dessert. The marmalade glaze is optional, but I recommend it, it adds just a touch of sweetness and a beautiful sheen.
Bake it up soon and you, too, will be singing it’s praises! 

Dorie Greenspan’s Lemon Spice Visiting Cake

Notes from Dorie: Whether you pack this cake as a gift or have it ready when visitors come to you, the imperative to share is implicit in its name. The cake is built for comfort and durability – make it on Thursday or Friday and have it all weekend. And if it stales, toast it; the heat will intensify the lemon and spice deliciously. The cake is easy to make (no machines needed) and, like all spice cakes, better after a day’s rest. Giving it a swish of warmed marmalade when it comes out of the oven is optional. What shouldn’t be passed up is what I call the ‘lemon trick’: Use your fingertips to rub the recipe’s lemon and sugar together until the sugar is moist and aromatic. This easy step transfers everything essential from the lemon to the cake. Think of it as aromatherapy for the cake and you.

Makes 10 servings


Butter and flour for the pan
1 ½ cups/190 grams all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 ¼ cups/250 grams sugar
1 large (or 2 small) lemons
4 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup/120 milliliters heavy cream, at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5 ½ tablespoons/75 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled
⅓ cup marmalade, for glaze (optional)
½ teaspoon water, for glaze (optional)


Center a rack in the oven, and heat it to 350. Butter an 8 1/2-inch loaf pan (Pyrex works well), dust with flour and tap out the excess. (For this cake, bakers’ spray isn’t as good as butter and flour.) Place on a baking sheet.

Whisk the 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, cardamom, ginger and salt together.

Put the sugar in a large bowl, and grate the zest of the lemon(s) over the sugar. Squeeze the lemon(s) to produce 3 tablespoons juice, and set this aside. Using your fingers, rub the sugar and zest together until the mixture is moist and aromatic. One at a time, add the eggs, whisking well after each. Whisk in the juice, followed by the heavy cream. Still using the whisk, gently stir the dry ingredients into the batter in two additions. Stir the vanilla into the melted butter, and then gradually blend the butter into the batter. The batter will be thick and have a beautiful sheen. Scrape it into the loaf pan.

Bake for 70 to 75 minutes (if the cake looks as if it’s getting too dark too quickly, tent it loosely with foil) or until a tester inserted deep into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer to a rack, let rest for 5 minutes and then carefully run a blunt knife between the sides of the cake and the pan. Invert onto the rack, and turn over. Glaze now, or cool to room temperature.

For the glaze: Bring the marmalade and water to a boil. Brush the glaze over the top of the warm cake, and allow to it to set for 2 hours. The glaze will remain slightly tacky.

When the cake is completely cool, wrap in plastic to store. If it’s glazed, wrap loosely on top.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Northern Italy Photo Tour

As promised (albeit a bit late in delivery), a photo tour of our September/October trip to northern Italy. To make it a bit more organized, I've broken the photos up by:

Jam Crostata in La Spezia

  • Delicious Foods
  • Beautiful Faces
  • Adorable Animals
  • Buckwheat Cake with Cherry Jam in Teglio
    Sbrisolona in Rovato
    Cheese, glorious cheese, in Brixen
    Fresh pasta with olives, capers, tomatoes, and ricotta in Brixen
  • Gorgeous Landscapes
I hope you enjoy taking the tour as much as I did putting it together. Pour yourself a glass of wine (better yet, make a refreshing Aperol Spritz), or whip up a cappuccino, find a comfy chair, and take a virtual journey to northern Italy. 

Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy, and delicious 2020!

Delicious Foods

First of many Aperol Spritz during this trip!
Gorgeous prune plums
The fresh catch of the day at the Genoa Mercato Orientale

Delicious baked goods in Cinque Terre
The famous Pesto Genovese! Delicioso!
Cherry Torta in Cinque Terre
Ricotta and Spinach Pansotti at Fattoria Mamma Chica in La Spezia

Pizzocheri in Teglio
Picnic Lunch
Learning to make gnocchi in Rovato

Lunch in Bardolino
Ethereal bomboloni (doughnut) and luscious cappuccino at roadside gas station!

Ricotta Dumplings with Plums in Brixen
Fabulous focaccia in Genoa
Pasta at the market in Genoa

Perfect Aperitivo in Lake Iseo

Beautiful Faces
Loved this guy! Cheesemonger in Cinque Terre
Our intrepid and fun guide in the Cinque Terre - Giuseppe!

These ladies were not happy about having their picture taken!
But this lady did not mind!
Our jovial guide on the Bernina Red Express to Switzerland
Alice, our wonderful guide, happily participating in a demo at the buckwheat watermill in Valtellina  
OK, maybe not so beautiful but fascinating! This is Otzi the Iceman.

Adorable Animals

What every dog wants: a place in the sun to nap.
A resident of the Montisola cat sanctuary
This pup takes his job as vineyard guard very seriously!

Gorgeous Landscapes

The Duomo in Milano
Beautiful gardens near Lake Como
Terraced vineyards in Tirano
Picturesque train station in Grum near the Alps
The Swiss Alps at Diavolezza
The haunting island retreat of the Beretta family in Montisola
Gorgeous Lake Garda

The magnificent Dolomites!
The Cinque Terre seaside