Anna’s Great-Nana’s Banana Nut Bread

One of my wedding gifts from my Nana (my dad’s mother) was a collection of her favorite recipes to add to my recipe box. They’re not the recipes I make all the time – most of them are desserts and special occasion foods – but some of them are real treasures.

I occasionally, like many people, purchase too many bananas. I eat them frequently, but some weeks I end up forgetting about them until they start to be past their raw-eating-prime. (AKA they turn black and smushy)

Usually when this happens, I make smoothies.

At one point, however, I decided to see if I had a good banana bread recipe around. While digging through my recipe box, I came across one in my Nana’s handwriting, but the recipe isn’t hers. The recipe belonged to her mother in law, my Great-Nana Erma Martoccio, who lived in New York in the early 1900’s. She is largely responsible for my Nana being an amazing cook, since my Nana is a farm girl from rural Tennessee and only comes by her Italian cooking by marriage.

It’s a very simple recipe, with no particularly special ingredients, but the bread is spectacular. (It is neither low fat nor low calorie, but this is special-occasion bread.)

Anna’s Great-Nana’s Banana Nut Bread
Recipe courtesy of Erma Martoccio

Hardware:

  • Two regular loaf pans or three “small” loaf pans
  • A mixer
  • A large bowl, a small bowl, the usual assortment of measuring cups, a spatula

Software:

  • 3/4 c. butter
  • 1 1/2c. sugar
  • 1 1/2c. mashed ripe bananas (3-4 medium)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 1/2 c. buttermilk, divided
  • 2 c. flour, divided
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • Optional: 3/4 c. chopped nuts (I use pecans)
  • Optional: 1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

I also usually make this in my stand mixer with the paddle attachment, but you can easily do it with a hand mixer and a spatula.

The Program:

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Grease the bottoms only of your loaf pans with non-stick spray or butter. I use three 1.2 quart Pyrex glass loaf pans (they have red lids, and are, I think, storage dishes, but they bake just fine).
  2. Cream together the butter and the sugar. While the mixer is going, crack the eggs into a small bowl and beat with a fork.
  3. Blend in the mashed bananas, beaten eggs, and vanilla
  4. Add, in order and mixing on low speed in between, 1/4c. buttermilk, 1 cup flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/4c. butter milk and the final cup of flour.
  5. With the spatula, gently mix in the nuts and chocolate chips, if using.
  6. Divide the batter evenly between the loaf pans.
  7. If using two 9×5 loaf pans, bake for 70-75 minutes. If using three smaller loaf pans, bake for 50-55 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean, and the loaves should be golden brown and delicious. The tops of the loaves may crack – that’s OK (even desirable).

This recipe freezes well and will keep in the refrigerator (cooled completely and wrapped well) for at least a week or two… but it never lasts that long in my house. The chocolate chips are my own idea and not in the original recipe, but they are quite a delicious addition, if I do say so myself.

Enjoy!

St Pat’s Day Soda Bread

Recipe courtesy of the Crim School Cookbook (my elementary school), author unknown.

This is a pretty basic recipe and doesn’t actually have any instructions with it. I’ll clarify where I can and can add more help in comments if needed!

Mix together:

  • 2C Flour
  • 2T sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Cut in:

  • 2 T butter (real butter, please)

Mix in

  • 3/4C plus 3T buttermilk

Knead for 3 minutes with

  • 1/2 cup dried currants, raisins, or dried cranberries (optional)

Shape into a round or oblong loaf. Dust the top lightly with flour. Using a long serrated knife, cut a 1/2 inch deep X or cross shape in the top of the loaf.

Bake at 375ºF for 35 minutes or until the top is deep golden brown. I bake mine on a heated pizza stone, but a greased baking sheet works too.

Now for the hard part: Let it cool on a cooling rack before you slice it, serve with lots of butter.

Grilled Cheese

Ok, I know, this isn’t really groundbreaking.  But I’ve discovered that there are a multitude of ways to really screw up grilled cheese sandwiches.

Fortunately, making a really fantastic grilled cheese sandwich requires only three ingredients.*

  • 2 slices of Really Good Bread (I like sourdough.  If all you have is Wonderbread… I’m sorry. Wheat breads are equally delicious, and stand up well to stronger cheeses.)
  • Cheese – something melty.  process American works, but Swiss or provolone or any of a number of other cheeses you can get in the deli will give you more flavor.
  • Butter – the real thing people.  This ain’t a sammich for your diet.

You also need three tools – a knife, a heavy bottomed flat skillet, and a spatula.  Oh and a plate.  And probably your fingers.

Take your heavy bottomed flat skillet and put it on the stove.  Do not turn the stove on.

Take some butter, and smear it all over one side of a slice of bread.  Do not be skimpy.  You want delicious crispy brown goodness, you need fat.  And that’s what butter is.  So lay it on there.

Now lay that butter-side down on your skillet, and turn it on to MEDIUM HEAT.  My stove goes from 1-10 + “HIGH”.  I set it on 5.

On top of that slice of bread lay one layer of cheese.**  If you’re using anything else, lay a thin layer of that on top.  You don’t want your sandwich to get too thick, or it’ll not get hot and gooey in the middle before you burn the outside.

And burned grilled cheese is just a sadness that I’m not prepared for.  And, as the saying goes, your patience will be rewarded.

Now, butter up another slice of bread, and lay it on top of the cheese butter side UP.  While you’ve been adding to your sandwich, your heavy skillet is slowly heating up the sandwich.  Slow heat is important at this stage, because you want to melt the cheese and not burn the bread.  After about 5 minutes or so, start checking the bread for done-ness.  I like a good deep golden brown.  You might like more or less than that.  Totally up to you.

When the appropriate level of grilled-cheese doneness has been reached, use the spatula to flip the sandwich.  Do this quickly, so as not to spill sandwich goo everywhere. (Another reason not to put too much in your grilled cheese).

This second heat phase won’t take long at all – maybe 2 minutes.  Watch it carefully.  At this point the cheese is melted, and you’re just browning the other side of the bread.

Once you’ve reached Ideal Brown-ness on your other side, transfer the sandwich to a plate.

Cut it however you like, and savor the delicious goodness.***  The crispy, brown, buttery bread.  The gooey cheese.  The blistering roof of your mouth because you didn’t let the sandwich cool long enough.

Ok maybe not so much on that last one.

*You can add many things to this sandwich.  Thinly sliced turkey or ham.  Very thinly sliced tomato. Whole green chilis, sliced thinly.  Sweet pickles.  I’m fond of a little smoked turkey and a thin smear of country style mustard. But the original is the original, and you can’t go wrong there.

**Two layers of cheese is daring, but I tempt fate and do it sometimes.  But just make sure it’s not TOO MUCH cheese.

***While I’m sure TJ will enlighten us with a poll on what is the proper way to cut a grilled cheese sandwich (across?  corner to corner? into squares?), for now, I accept the zen of sandwich cutting, and believe that all sandwich cuts are created equal.  The choice is yours.