pecans

Frozen Dark Chocolate Banana Bites with Toasted Pecans

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How many times have you bought bananas to only have them turn into a pitiful brown by the end of the week? For awhile there, I'd just toss them in the trash and never gave them a second thought but the beauty of internet has paved the way to a brand new world of recipes featuring the overly ripened fruit. 

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You could use them to make muffins and breads or even as an egg replacement, freeze them for smoothies, or ice cream and my favorite way of enjoying them is frozen and dipped in dark chocolate. 

Fun fact for the day: Did you know you're suppose to peel your banana from the stemless end? If you ever want to be the life of the party, here's 9 ways to peel a banana

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I usually like to peel the ripened bananas, slice them and lay them out in a baking sheet lined with wax paper. This way makes cutting painless and when you dip them in the dark chocolate, the chocolate will immediately harden. However, bananas do melt quickly, so you have to work quickly and in smaller batches. If the bananas start to soften, simply return them to the freezer and dip once they are hardened again. 

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This recipe is simple and uses only 3 ingredients: bananas, dark chocolate and toasted pecans. Also if you don't want as much chocolate on your bananas or you're short on time, take the melted chocolate (make sure it's not piping hot) and place it in a ziplock bag. Squeeze the chocolate to one of the bottom corners and cut the tip and drizzle the chocolate all over the frozen bananas pieces and top with pecans. Omit pecans if you're not a nutty kinda guy. 

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Ingredients:

serves 1-2; yields about 30-40 pieces (printable recipe)

  • 3 ripened bananas, peeled sliced into 1" thick pieces and frozen
  • 1 dark chocolate bar (3.5 oz each ) I used a 70% cacao bar but milk chocolate can be used as well
  • 1 1/2 T coconut oil, melted
  • 1 cup toasted pecans, chopped

Peel bananas and slice into 1" pieces. Place onto large pan lined with wax paper. Place into freezer for at least 1 hour.

Chop dark chocolate bar into small pieces and place into a small glass bowl. Microwave for 30 sec and then in 10 sec intervals (stirring in between) until chocolate is fully melted. Add melted coconut oil and mix thoroughly.

Find some wooden skewers or fondue skewers to make the dipping process easier, if you have neither you can also use  2 small forks. Remove bananas from freezer and pierce banana pieces using the skewers and slowly allow the excess chocolate to drip off. Place onto reserved wax paper and top with pecan pieces. Set aside.

If you are using two forks, drop the banana pieces one at a time into the chocolate and use the forks to lift them, allowing any excess chocolate to drip off the sides. Place onto parchment and top with pecan pieces. Continue with the rest of the batch. 

Eat immediately or place back into the freezer until ready to eat. If the bites are too hard, simply leave on the counter for a couple minutes and they will soften a little. 

If the chocolate hardens while you are dipping, simply place back into the microwave for 5-10 sec to soften again.

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Chocolate Spice Cake with Cranberries and Pecans

I spent the entire week trying to find the perfect words to celebrate the life of James Neal Blanton.  Unfortunately, my entire post got erased yesterday, yes a n00b mistake, I know.  A million times Collin had told me "Always backup Joy" "You should write your posts in Word first Zhang." So I guess after the millionth and one time, it finally stuck and NEVER AGAIN will I make the same mistake.

After screaming a string of cuss words and letting out all my frustrations by punching a few pillows (they don't hurt your hand and they don't fight back), I realized, maybe this was for the better. I honestly wasn't entirely happy with what I had written.  So I decided to start over, and go old school with a tablet in one hand and a pen in the other.  I sat outside on a lawn chair, soaking up the sun and waited for the right words to come to me.

Since I was a young child, a common question I'd ask my parents was "What is the purpose of life?  How do we know what our job is?"  My parents would usually reply "You need to work hard and study and do well in school, so you can become a successful person like a doctor or a lawyer."  And for many many years I truly believed that.

It takes a man like Mr.Blanton to help you realize otherwise.

Kate quickly became one of my closest friends in high school, her warm personality, kind heart and contagious laugh made it easy for me to immediately "click" with her.  Her house was always the place to be on Fridays after school.  It was conveniently right by school but the best part was she always had the coolest parents.  I am always very nervous when I initially meet my friends' parents, mostly because I am out of control with the volume of my voice and I guess a bit "rambunctious".  My usual self takes a complete 180 and suddenly I turn very shy and quiet.

However, Kate's parents always had a genuine, positive and loving energy that made you instantly feel at home as if you were part of the family.  Back then, my own personal family life was tumultuous to say the least, and I always avoided going home because neither of my parents were ever in a good mood.  Every Friday, I would look forward to hanging out at Kate's (with her parents) because it always seemed to give me a peace of mind no matter what was going on back at home.

Her parents always took the time to greet us and sit down to see how we were doing.  No matter how boring the story, Mr. Blanton always listened attentively with a big smile on his face.  His eyes never held judgment, and were always filled with much comfort and warmth.

I now realize the solace Kate's family provided me helped me not only keep my sanity during those years but helped me grasp the importance of having an optimistic attitude in life.  It made me recognize that the purpose of life wasnt to become a doctor or a lawyer, but the positive impact, you as an individual, are able to make on other people's lives.  Only then does your spirit and being live on after you are gone.

When I heard the news of Mr.Blanton being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's or otherwise known as "ALS" I knew the outcome would not be good.  My heart sank and I had trouble understanding why certain people were given such fates.  But Mr.Blanton never questioned it, all he knew was that he had to make the best out of what he had.

One of the last times I saw Mr.Blanton was around last November, the disease had almost taken all mobility in his legs and his speech was impaired. By this time, I had not seen him in over a year.  I was shocked as to what this disease had done to this beautiful man.  However, he soon made me feel foolish for even feeling pity towards him, for he didn't seem to let his condition phase him at all.  Instead he was eager to show us his new gadget -- a fully stocked recliner that could raise and lower you in and out of the chair.  We couldn't help but laugh and clap, for his excitement and award winning smile was always highly infectious!  And as always, Kate's parents took the time to sit down and chat, and as always, Mr. Blanton listened with bright eyes and a smile that brimmed from ear to ear.  I felt a sudden pang of nostalgia, missing the same feelings of comfort that always felt so familiar in their home.

For the two and a half years he fought the battle against his condition, I've never seen such determination and bravery come from one man.  And not only was it prevalent in him but the entire family as well.  I am unable to express in words the admiration I feel for this family, but I can only hope I will be able to show the same strength, unity and unwavering faith they held during the challenges we encounter through life.

I was nervous about attending the service.  I was never good at saying goodbyes.  As I was driving to the church, I felt like I was in a complete (panicked) daze.  Before walking into the sanctuary, I paused and took a deep breath -- "You can do this Joy, don't flip out" I kept repeating to myself.

Upon sitting down, I took a look at the program that was handed to me and on the very front was a picture of Mr.Blanton's bright smiling face.  I completely broke down, for I realized that this was it.  He was really gone.  My heart started to race, the blood rushed to my face and I could barely breathe through the choking of tears that poured down my face.

Then, "Amazing Grace" begun, the angelic voices of the choir singers suddenly filled the entire sanctuary with such magnificence.  I closed my eyes, trying to calm my nerves and it was then that I felt it: a blanket of calm and soothing stillness that permeated throughout the entire room.  Immediately I felt my fears erased and replaced with a sense of serenity I have never felt before.

Kate made the perfect speech about her father that left everyone feeling positive and uplifted.  She shared 4 life lessons that her father had taught her and I wanted to share them with you.

Don't just talk the talk, but walk the walk

Always give second chances.

Stay in touch.

Sing Loudly.

We are all born with the opportunity to change and improve the world.  Mr.Blanton chose to make a positive impact through his service to not only his family and friends but also to his community.  He always strived to help the less fortunate and always made an effort to make a difference in people's lives.

He has taught me the importance of sharing and spreading happiness to others, to never assume a person's situation, and to always love with an open heart.  It's men like Mr.Blanton that makes this world a better place.  Though he may be gone, the impact he has made will live on forever.

May you rest in peace.

James Neal Blanton

(July 17 1935 - February 22 2010)

Wheatberry Salad with Poached Egg and Potato Crisps

So it has been a month of eating mostly vegetarian and I have to say guys, I think it's honestly not half bad.  I figured by now I'd be ripping my hair out, screaming at the top of my lungs, WHERE IS THE MEAT????  But ya know, I think I enjoy not having meat in every meal...  I know what you're thinking, I am probably losing my mind due to the lack of meaty goodness in my diet but the differences that I'm noticing in my energy and the reduction of body fat is incredible.

I use to eat meat in every meal, except breakfast because for some reason I always skip that meal.  It's horrible for you, I know, I am making a conscious effort to eat breakfast this year and this week I've done pretty good.  Anyways back to meat, I use to have it up to 12-13 times a week -- I mean, that's a lot of meat.  I would also eat a lot of red meat during dinner time as well: steak, pork, bison...okay YUM.  But seeing that our bodies are made to be mostly vegetarian (the proof is in our teeth!), like our common ancestor the Monkey, it just made sense for me to cut down my meat consumption to 3-4 times a week.

Trust me, Collin was geekin pretty bad when we first started this venture.  "What are we going to eat if we can't eat meat?"  "Does this mean we'll be eating beans all the time?"  "Should I get beano?" "No really, what are we going to eat to stay full?" All valid concerns, and I don't blame him.   I've eaten at vegetarian restaurants and I always feel like something is missing...like meat.  Then I realized, why make something that "tastes" like meat when obviously you know it's not -- I mean it's just down right disappointing.  So I've embraced the flavors, textures and colors of vegetables and enjoy them for what they are, not for what they can "substitute".

For this lovely dinner I prepared last night I used a whole grain called "wheatberries".  Basically it is the entire wheat kernel: the bran, germ, endosperm and all except for the husk.  The textures of these little "berries" are incredible, they are a chewy consistency and very firm in texture and also provide an excellent source of dietary fiber.  Dietary fiber not only gives you healthy poops (tee hee) but also lowers cholesterol, prevents heart disease and several other benefits that keeps your body strong and in good shape.

I mixed the wheatberries with some diced bell peppers and toasted pecans.  I placed it on a bed of peppery argula greens and thinly sliced tomatoes and topped it off with a poached eggs and some potato crisps I baked in the oven.  It's one of those meals you wouldnt expect to be soul satisfying, but it truly is.  It's all of earth's wholesome goodness in a bowl.

Ingredients for Wheatberry Salad with Poached Egg and Potato Crisps:

(serves 2-3)

  • 2 cup wheatberries, rinsed and soaked overnight
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1/2 lemon, squeezed, juice only
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 medium red skinned potato, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 roma tomato, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup arugula greens, rinsed and dried
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
  • salt pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a medium heavy bottomed pot, place your wheatberries and cover with water -- cook at medium high heat for 30 minutes, or until softened.  Meanwhile, take your thinly sliced potatoes and minced garlic and place them on a prepared baking sheet.  You can either spray with cooking spray or evenly coat with olive oil.  Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.

While you are waiting for those items to cook, this is when you can prep the other vegetables like the diced bells, tomatoes and arugula.  You can also begin poaching your egg during this time as well, for those of you who have never poached an egg, it is better to use fresh eggs when poaching so it holds together better while cooking.

My friend Dhale has great instructions as to how to poach eggs on her site that can be found here. If you prefer a less runny yolk, leave it in for 4-5 minutes, if you like yours runny (as I do) leave it in for 2-3 minutes.  Be sure the whites are fully cooked before you consume them, you can check the whites by raising the poached egg out carefully with a slotted spoon.

Take your potato crisps out of the oven and set aside.  Once the wheatberries are fully cooked, strain and place in a large mixing bowl.  Place the lemon juice and honey along with the chopped bell peppers and pecans and mix together.  Plate your arugula and tomatoes and place a spoonful of the wheatberry salad ontop.  Top it off with the poached eggs and potato crisps and season with salt and pepper and a little bit of grated Parm -- I actually kicked it up a notch and used "smoked salt" which is VERY yummy and can be found at the bulk spice section at Central Market.

Heh heh heh, thought I'd share some pictures with you guys -- both of my animals and some of my food art.  I would love some feedback so tell me what you guys think!!

I am not sure what Lily is doing here, she looks like she's recovering from a hangover, oooh kitty....

Heh heh heh heh

It didn't work quite as well on Lays -- and just so you guys know (because it is not seemingly evident in the pictures), my animals love me hahahahaha :)

Can anyone guess what this is?

Food art time!!

There ya go folks! Until next time ...