Banana Cake with Chocolate Icing

Last week, my nephew turned two. And before I left Edmonton – headed first for Newfoundland, and then for my current home base in North Carolina –  we celebrated. We opened presents, went to the park, chased magpies and, of course, ate cake. 

Compared to my efforts on Max’s first birthday, this year was a little more modest. But, based on the look of undiminished excitement on his little face as we relit the candles atop the cake and let him blow them out for a second time (he’s celebrating two years, after all), I’ll be bold and posit that he was happy with just a cake, instead of cakes. 

In keeping with (an admittedly one-year only) tradition, it was a mini three-layer banana creation, wrapped up in chocolate. On first read, it may sound a little complicated, what with all those layers of a non-traditional size. But because you can cut them from a single 9x13-inch cake, it comes together surprisingly quickly (and, my favourite bit, it asks that you grease only one pan).

But, as you may well ask, why bother with such tiny layers in the first place? When I made my first tiny cake last year, the thinking was pragmatic: If Max was going to smash the thing anyway, as every baby should have the right to do, better keep it small. But there’s now another part to it: A three-layer cake simply feels more ceremonious, and in going small, it’s more manageable to bake (no need to scale recipes or invest in extra pans) and it won’t linger in your fridge days after the party’s over. 

Now enough with the details. It’s time for, as Max would say, CAAAAAAAAAAKE

5-inch Banana Cake with Chocolate Icing
Serves 4-6
Adapted from this recipe and this recipe 

Cake Ingredients 
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I swapped in 1 cup of whole wheat)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup mashed ripe bananas 

Icing Ingredients
2 1/2 cups icing (confectioner’s or powdered) sugar
6 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
4-6 tbsp milk 
1 tsp pure vanilla extract 

Cake Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 9x13-inch glass baking pan. (My 9x13-inch pan was nowhere to be found, so I used a slightly smaller pan and a muffin tin.)

2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy (an electric or hand mixer works bester for this). Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the vanilla.

3. In another medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. 

4. Gently stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until mostly incorporated. Add in the buttermilk and banana, and stir gently just until the mixture is smooth. 

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-40 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden and a knife/toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out with a few crumbs, but without gooey batter. Set aside on a wire rack to cool.

Icing Instructions

1. In a medium bowl, sift together the icing sugar and cocoa powder.

2. In a large bowl, beat the butter until it’s smooth. With the mixer on low, gradually add in the sugar-cocoa mix, alternating with the milk. After the final addition, add in the vanilla, and beat until the icing is totally smooth.

3. If the icing is too dry, beat in more milk, one teaspoon at a time. If the icing is too wet, beat in cocoa or sugar (depending on whether you want it to be more chocolate or more sweet) one tablespoon at a time. 

To Assemble

1. Once the cake is cool, cut it into three, approximately 5-inch rounds (a thin-rimmed glass bowl works well here). If the tops of your rounds aren’t flat, gently slice the rounded tops off with a serrated knife, and set them aside with the rest of the scraps. 

2. Line the edges of your cake plate with strips of parchment or wax paper. Place one round in the centre of your plate so that it overlaps the edges of the paper.

3. Spread 1/4 cup of icing evenly over the first round. Stack another round on top of the icing, and spread another 1/4 cup of icing evenly over that second layer. Stack the final round on top, and spread a very thin layer of icing over it. 

4. Next, spread a very thin layer of icing around the sides of your cake. This ‘crumb coat’, as it’s called, will fix the crumbs of the cake in place and keep them from invading the next, final layer of icing.

5. Let the crumb coat dry a little, then ice the sides and top of your cake the remaining icing (as much or as little as you want). Extra icing can be stored in an airtight container in the freezer for a few months (or eaten with your cake scraps!). 

Coming Up: Cake!

Tomorrow: A mini, three-layer banana cake, wrapped up in chocolate.


See you tomorrow, with cake!

From Newfoundland: Partridgeberry Pie

When I arrived in Newfoundland two weeks ago, I felt like I was being dropped not into a different province, but into a different country. 

The accents. The brightly coloured houses. The scrubby vegetation, doing its best to carve out a life on a landscape ravaged by wind and salt air. The food.

berry-hill-pair.jpgMenus offered up cod tongues. Moose dinners. French fries topped with bread crumbs and gravy. And then there were the berries.

Newfoundland’s rocky ground doesn’t support the kinds of crops you’ll find growing across Canada’s other provinces. But it does play host to an impressive array of hardy berry bushes, some of which you’ll find scattered in only a handful of places throughout the western hemisphere. 

berry-group.jpgClockwise from top left: Wild blueberries, juniper berries, mystery berries (update 10/13/2014: These ones are chokeberries), partridgeberries, witherod viburnum (inedible, from what I gather), and blackberries. 

We arrived towards the end of Newfoundland’s berry season. But as we hiked around the province, we found (and sampled) berries everywhere: still clinging to bushes along the trails, being sold by the bucketful on the side of the highway, preserved in the jams offered up with our morning toast, and baked into biscuits and pies. 

I’d like to be able to report that I managed to cook with the berries too, but, alas, by the time we got home from hiking and touring each day, we fell into bed without the energy to even consider turning on the stove. Now that I’m off the island though, I’ll be working my way through the moose-free recipes in my snazzy little Newfoundland Recipes cookbook, scored for a $2.50 at a St. John’s flea market. 

pie-pair.jpgTo start: Partridgeberry pie, made from tart little red berries that grow in abundance across the province. Where so many pies are decidedly sweet, this one – which we picked up at a community bakesale in Gros Mourne National Park – offers both sweetness and bite. Ours went down easy, helped by a hefty spoonful of freshly whipped cream. 

partridge-berries.jpgUnless you’re on Canada’s east coast or in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, where partridgeberries (also known as lingonberries) are grown, you’ll likely have a tricky time tracking them down. But not to worry! You can easily substitute in their close cousin, the common cranberry, which you’ll likely find stocked in most grocery stores across Canada and the States, what with the impending Thanksgivings on the horizon. 

Speaking of which, happy holidays to my friends in Canada. May your day be filled with pie! 

Partridgeberry Pie
Adapted from Newfoundland Recipes and Canadian Living 
Makes one 9-inch pie

Note: If you can’t find partridgeberries (also known as lingbonberries, foxberries or lowbush cranberries, among other names), you can use an equal quantity of cranberries or red currants. I found the cooked partridgeberries to have a slight raspberry flavour – if you have easy access to raspberries, try swapping 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the cranberries/currants for raspberries. 

Pastry for a 9-inch, two-crust pie (I like this recipe)
2 cups of fresh or frozen partridgeberries (see note above about substitutions)
1.5-2 cups of white granulated sugar
1 tbsp milk
2 tsp granulated sugar


1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. 

2. Prepare your pie crust according to your recipe’s instructions, stopping just before you’re meant to divide the pie crust in two. 

3. In a medium-sized, heavy sauce pan, combine your berries with 1.5 cups of sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and let simmer until the berries pop and the mixture thickens, stirring often (about 10 minutes). Give the berry mixture a taste about halfway through the cooking process (careful – it’ll be hot!) to see whether you want to add the extra 1/2 cup of sugar. Set the cooked mixture aside to cool. 

4. Finishing preparing your pie crust, dividing the dough into two balls, one slightly larger than the other. Roll the larger ball out to fit your 9-inch pie plate, trimming off any dough that hangs over the edges of the plate. Roll the smaller round out to fit overtop of your pie plate, but don’t trim it just yet.

5. Spread the berry mixture evenly in your dough-lined pie plate. Top with the second round of dough, trimming off any that hangs over the edges of your pie plate. Gently press a fork around the edges of the pie to seal the two layers of dough together. Use the fork to poke a few holes in the top of the pie. 

6. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and sugar with a fork until the sugar has dissolved. Brush the sugary milk over the top of your pie.

7. Bake the pie in your preheated oven for 20 minutes, then drop the heat to 400 degrees Fahreneheit and bake for 5-10 minutes more, or until the pie crust is golden. Allow the pie to cool slightly before you dig in. 

Coming Up: A Recipe from Newfoundland

As usual when I travel, I’m running a bit behind with my recipe sharing. But stay tuned – in the next few days, I’ll be sharing a recipe featuring one of the many berries that you’ll find growing wild here on Newfoundland.

And, as usual when I’m running behind, here are a few photos to visually tide you over while you wait for the full post. 

First up: The berries we’ll be working with in a few days’ time. 


Next up: The sort of environment you can expect to find your berries. Not a bad place to linger for a few minutes searching for fresh fruit, I’d say. 


Check back in a few days, and I’ll have that recipe ready for you!

FoodHappy in Newfoundland!

Hey friends! Once again, I’m on the move. For the next week and a half, I’ll be travelling around Newfoundland, taking photos and (hopefully) cooking out of my newly acquired cookbook, Newfoundland Recipes: The Sixteenth Edition (highlights include baked goods by the names of Bangbelly and Figgy Duff, mixed in amongst the moose and caribou dishes).  


I’ve only been on the island for a day now, so I, alas, have no treats for you just yet. While you wait, here are some photos from my first day of travels around the St. John’s area. 


Been to Newfoundland before? I’d love to hear your suggestions of where to go and, particularly, what to eat. Send me a note at steph[at] or leave me a comment below.


Stay tuned for more from the coast! 

10 Recipes for When You're Short on Time

After last week’s post about olive oil, the logical thing to do would be to share a recipe that would let you use your glorious new oil to great effect. 

And last week, that was my intention. Drop by my place today, and you’ll find three brown bags of mushrooms in my fridge, all acquired on different days this past week, each day the day I thought I would make that amazing dish I’ve been meaning to share with you for ages (which happens to taste best when the mushrooms aren’t shrivelled).  

mushrooms-herbs-oil.jpgBut life overturns intentions on a whim. Or, more specifically, a last-minute decision to leave town for a few months (yes, again, but this time it’ll be more desks and computers than anything else) turns up a slew of responsibilities that quash your freedom to cook mushrooms. 

The logical recipe will come, as soon as I’ve finished assessing the doableness of my to-do list, and then actually doing the doable things (and trust me, I want that stuff done). In the mean time, here are some recipes from the archives that will keep you well-fed when your life choices deny you the time needed to cook a good mushroom. 

Four Fast Breakfasts:

Bircher Muesli

Easy, Australian Muesli

7 Simple Oatmeal Variations

Chocolate, Banana & Cherry Smoothie

Six Speedy Dinners:

The Eggwich

Redemption Salad

Egg on Rice

Bruschetta 5 Ways

Australian-style Egg Salad Sandwich

Speedy Chana Masala (not as quick as the others, but it gets point for lasting you a few meals)

5 Tips for Choosing a Good Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Last week, I stood in the grocery store, staring down a thousand bottles of oil. Literally. Probably. 

I thought I knew what I was after: Extra virgin olive oil. But then these bottles, these hoards of bottles, confronted me with questions. Did I want something Californian, Spanish, Italian, maybe Portuguese? Did I prefer my oil to be more greenish-yellow, or yellowish-green? And did I want it in a tin, or a bottle that was clear, or green, or black? And, and, and.


At the time, my answer to most of these questions was a hesitant, “Uhhhh…?”. And so I left, empty handed, but with the question in my mind: How do you choose a good extra virgin olive oil?

(For those of you wondering, extra virgin is the highest grade of olive oil– the sort you use as a condiment rather than a cooking oil.)

After a weekend of reading, I’ve learned this: There are no guarantees; in the world of extra virgin olive oil, regulation is minimal and fraud is high. Fortunately, not all is lost. Here are a few things you can do to help boost your chances of walking away with something delicious. 


Your best bet when it comes to choosing a good olive oil is to sample it before buying.

Does it smell and taste like something you want to eat (remember, it’s primarily a condiment)? There are hundreds of varieties of olives out there, so don’t expect every oil to taste grassy or peppery or be bottle green in colour. Look for a flavour that’s pleasing to you, and leave it at that.

That being said, there’s a problem: Olive oil tastings are rare in these parts. Here are some other things to look for when sampling isn’t an option. 


Most countries whose names appear on olive oil labels are capable of producing great oil. The problem is that there’s no guarantee your oil really comes from that country.

See, oils that are made in a particular country may be substantially different than those that are a product of, or packed in that same country. In theory, the former category should guarantee that the olives and the oil come from the country on the label; the latter two could simply be bottled in that country, but made from olives or oil that comes from a different country altogether (imposters!). And that matters for two reasons.

First up, regulations and growing conditions differ dramatically between oil-producing countries. Second, the quality of extra virgin olive oil degrades quickly, so the longer it takes for the oil to make it into the bottle, and that bottle to reach your store, the less tasty it’s going to be.

If you can’t find the made in label (I couldn’t), opt for product of over packed in – it seems to be the less dicier of the two. 


To help assure consumers of quality and give honest producers a competitive advantage, some products are stamped with labels certifying their authenticity (with regards to quality, method of production, etc.).

In the olive oil world, look for: the European Union’s red and yellow “protected designation or origin” label, the California Olive Oil Council’s yellow and green seal, or the North American Olive Oil Association’s red and green seal

duo-v2.jpg(In fairness, these types of certification aren’t without criticism.)

Oil4.jpgThe quality of your extra virgin olive oil will degrade not only over time, but also when it’s exposed to heat and light. For that reason, stay away from oils in translucent glass, oils stocked in windows, etc. 


As I said earlier, the quality of extra virgin olive oil degrades quickly – it’s meant to be consumed within a year or two of production.

Look for a bottle stamped with the oil’s production date – this will give you a better indication of its age than a more arbitrary expiration date.


First up, colour: You may have heard that the best extra virgin olive oils are more green than yellow. And while that may have been the case at one point, nowadays cheaper oils are being mixed with dyes to increase their greenness.  


As for price: There’s no guarantee that price is indicative of quality. In the photo above, the yellowish oil on the left and the slightly greener oil in the middle cost roughly the same amount. The similarly green oil on the far right was substantially less expensive. In short: Follow the other tips first, then see if you’re left with an oil that suits your price point. 

In conclusion…

And so, you’re ready to get yourself some quality oil! Using the tips above will help you get closer to finding a real extra virgin olive oil. And there’s value in that – channelling your dollars towards producers who do things by the book will (hopefully) keep the real stuff around for longer. But at the end of the day, follow your taste buds. If your favourite oil doesn’t come in a dark bottle, or doesn’t have a certification label, don’t fret. 

Want to read more about extra virgin olive oil? 

Check out this article for some insight into the shady side of the extra virgin olive oil trade.

Read this post for a few brand recommendations (note that it might be a bit dated), and more information on using and storing olive oil. 

Read this post for a detailed explanation of the differences between plain, virgin and extra virgin olive oil. 

Overcoming Eggplant Anxiety, Plus a Recipe

To me, eggplants are aspirational ingredients. Like artichokes and imported mushrooms, they’re the sort of thing I buy when, standing in the produce section, I’m struck by a vague notion that I could, in theory, cook them well. 

I know it can be done – I’ve had amazing eggplant. It’s just that, I’ve never been the one behind the amazingness, try though I may. 


But when that notion strikes, I’m blinded by possibility. All I see is a grocery store aisle stocked with deliverance from charred, spongey failure, leading to a world of cuisine brought into being by me! 

And so, now and then, I buy an eggplant. 

And then I go to cook the thing and I remember that I don’t know what I’m doing. With failure as my only reference point, my willingness to devote effort or ingredients to my poor eggplant wanes, and I create something truly awful. 

Ingredients-text.jpgThis weekend, when I bought another eggplant, I sensed I was reaching a breaking point. One more plate of dehydrated eggplant rounds and the door on amazing eggplant à la Stephanie would close, forever. In short: I needed an easy win.

Enter, this concoction: a roasted eggplant dip/spread/something mixed with tahini, cumin, lemon and garlic. It is, as you might have been thinking, pretty much baba ganoush, only with the skins left on and the blending stage left out. 

Trio.jpgIt’s hardly revolutionary, but that’s not the point. The point is: It worked. You can cook an eggplant and have it taste good, even if all of your previous efforts have failed. Trust in the recipe: Add an eyebrow-raising amount of oil, cook the eggplants until they’re well past tender, and you will be rewarded. 

Roasted Eggplant Spread
Makes 1-1.5 cups, depending on the size of your eggplant
Adapted from Bon Appetit  

Note: The original recipe recommends leaving the skin on the eggplant when you make the spread. If you prefer a smooth spread, you’ll probably want to use only the soft flesh. To do so, simply scoop the cooked flesh out of the skins with a spoon and proceed with the recipe as directed.

1 large eggplant, cut into quarters lengthwise, stem discarded
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste)
1-3 tsp lemon juice (to taste)
1 tsp minced or grated garlic
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp roasted sesame seeds
Finely chopped fresh parsley


1. Preheat your oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Place the cut eggplant into a baking dish. Pour 1/4 cup of olive oil over the eggplant, using your fingers or a basting brush to thoroughly coat it with the oil. 

3. Roast the eggplant for 20-25 minutes, or unitl the skins are charred and the flesh is golden and soft through, turning three times so that each side of the eggplant spends some time directly against the hot pan. Once the eggplant has cooked, let it cool in the pan on a wire rack. 

4. Once the eggplant is cool enough to handle, finely dice it (be warned – this step is messy!). 

5. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, lemon zest, cumin and salt. 

6. Add the diced eggplant to the bowl and stir until it’s coated with the lemony dressing. 

7. Top the eggplant spread with the extra virgin olive oil, toasted sesame seeds and parsley. Eat it on a sandwich, dip into it with a piece of pita or a cracker, or enjoy it straight off of a spoon.


Camping-friendly Coconut Green Curry

It’s been three weeks now since I shared a recipe with you, meaning: 1) I’m out of practice telling stories that circuitously lead to recipes; and 2) You, quite understandably, might not have the patience for that sort of thing anyway. So let’s just get straight to the point and talk about this green curry recipe.

First, I should say: Applying the term ‘recipe’ here is a bit of a stretch; we’re wading into the territory of canned beans, prepared curry paste, and hot food in 10 minutes or less. If you were hoping to really cook today, you might be happier tackling this much more ambitious (and wholly delectable) coconut curry. But if fast and easy are your thing, solider on! 

As the title of the post implies, the reason behind the ultra-convenience here is that the dish is meant to be consumed while camping, when your ability to say, pressure cook beans or prepare a curry paste from scratch is somewhat limited (particularly if, like me, you aim to minimize the amount of time in which you waft tempting food smells in the direction of your neighbourhood bears).  

water.jpgSure, if you’re really after convenience, you could heat up some canned chilli. But after a long day of driving, when you’re facing a chilly night in a tent, eating something good that you cooked yourself – even if it’s this simple – is immensely more satisfying and recharging than a prepackaged alternative (especially if your fellow campers do the dishes). 

plants.jpgFinally, don’t feel like you have to wait until you’re out in the wild (or pseudo-wild, in my case) to give this a shot. Because…well, because you can eat what you want, when you want it, when it comes down to it. But if you need a more compelling reason, it’s faster, cheaper and more interesting than ordering a pizza. Or at least it will be, if I stop writing about it and give you the recipe, already. Here it is. 

Camp-friendly Coconut Green Curry

Serves 2 hungry people as a main, 4 as a smaller meal, and doubles easily

1 tbsp oil (olive, canola, vegetable, and coconut will all work well)
1-3 tbsp prepared green curry paste (I use the awkardly named ‘Cock Brand’ green curry paste, which you can find at Superstore)*
1 540 ml can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 ~400 ml can of full fat coconut milk, shaken
2-3 bell peppers, sliced ~1.5 cm thick
4 cups of packed fresh, chopped spinach**
Salt (or soy sauce) to taste
To serve: Fresh cilantro or thai basil, lime wedges, cooked jasmine rice


1. Heat the oil in a medium-sized pot set over moderate heat. Once the oil is warm, add the curry paste, stirring to break it up and heat it through, about 30 seconds.

2. Carefully add to the pot the chickpeas, coconut milk and peppers. Simmer over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the peppers are nearly tender.

3. Sitr in the spinach until it’s evenly coated in the coconut milk. Taste the broth and season with salt or soy sauce to your liking.

4. Simmer the curry over medium-low for another minute or so, until the spinach has wilted but is still bright green.

5. Divide the curry evenly over bowls of hot jasmine rice, then top each bowl with fresh herbs and lime wedges. When serving this up for two people, each bowl gets: ~3/4 cup rice, half the curry, 3-4 tablespoons of fresh herbs, and 1/4 of a fresh lime. 

 *Premade curry pastes can differ quite a lot in their spiciness. With that in mind, start by using just 1 tbsp of paste, tasting the broth that’s made when you add the coconut milk, and then stirring in additional paste as you see fit. It’s also worthwhile to read the instructions on the side of your curry paste container to get a sense of what 1 tbsp will get you, in terms of flavour and heat.

**Sturdier greens – bok choy, cabbage, collard greens, beet greens, etc. – will also work well in this curry, and are likely to hold up a little better in your camping cooler. They’ll take a few extra minutes to cook through, so it’s best to add them to the pot at the same time as the coconut milk, chickpeas and peppers. And, as you’d expect, you can use other veggies, in exchange for or in addition to the peppers (thinly-sliced carrots and snow peas both spring to mind). 

British Columbia, in Squares

Friends! I got back to my apartment last night, ate a bagel and went to bed. And so, today: A few photos from my trip. 


Tomorrow: A proper recipe (though it won’t take too much more effort than toasting a bagel).