MY FAVORITE BANANA BREAD

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April has been a pretty exciting and busy month so far, but the best has yet to come. This Friday, even though I’ve lived in southern California all my life (minus college time), I am finally visiting Joshua Tree for the first time ever! How I made it almost 30 years without venturing to one of the most popular and beautiful deserts in the state (and country!) is beyond me, but I tend to make up for all that lost time by exploring and hiking around as much as humanly possible. And then… Alex and I will be landing in Portland, Maine on the last day of this month, so I’m pretty much counting down every day with too much excitement.

Today I’m sharing another one of my favorite standby recipes which I’m surprised took me so long to post: banana bread. I have a funny (re: picky) relationship with bananas: I absolutely do not like to eat them by itself mostly due to its texture, but I add them to my daily smoothies and I could live off of banana bread if I had the choice. It’s strange, I know, but I think that my dislike of bananas should be a testament to how good my banana bread is! If I could hate plain bananas, but love banana bread… I must be doing something right with this recipe.

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I don’t think there’s anything better than the smell of banana bread baking in the oven. I know a lot of people talk up the smell of fresh chocolate chip cookies, but I gotta say that the scent of fresh banana bread is up there as one of my most cherished scent “memories”. Even though the scent makes you want to eat the bread as soon as it comes out of the oven, I strongly advise against this! I come from the mindset that banana bread is 100 times better the next day and the next day after that. The longer the bread sits, the banana flavor intensifies. And speaking of bananas, I want you to wait to use your bananas until they look like fruit flies are going to eat them. Sorry for the gross visual, but the riper the bananas are, the more flavor and sweetness we’ll get from the fruit. I feel like this wait period is what sets a good banana bread from an exceptional one.

It took me a while to find my favorite version of banana bread, but the one I’m giving today is by far the best one I’ve ever come across. We all have our personal preferences when it comes to the popular loaf cake: some believe that adding chocolate chips is a must; some believe that adding yogurt or sour cream will give it the best moist texture; and some think nuts aren’t necessary. I believe that the best banana bread doesn’t have chocolate (I feel like it overpowers the banana flavor too much), needs sour cream for flavor and texture, and pecans must be added for a much needed crunch in each bite. Besides that, I don’t have any other notes or suggestions for this recipe! It’s pretty straight-forward, but trust me, it’ll quickly become a staple in your household after inhaling an entire slice.

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My Personal Favorite Banana Bread

Yields (1) 9x5” Loaf Cake

Recipe adapted from Epicurious

Ingredients

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  • 1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (ground will work as well)

  • 1 tsp. baking powder

  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda

  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

  • 2 large eggs, room temperature

  • 4 large ripe bananas (about 2 cups), peeled and mashed with a fork

  • 1/4 cup sour cream

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 1 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 9x5” loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray (alternatively, you can butter and flour the pan). Set aside.

  2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to fully combine it.

  3. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, a couple minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each one is fully incorporated until adding the next. Add the mashed bananas, sour cream, and vanilla extract. Mix on medium speed until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  4. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the stand mixer bowl while on low speed. Mix until the ingredients are fully incorporated. Using a spatula, fold in the chopped pecans.

  5. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top using a spatula. Bake in the oven for 60-65 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. When ready, the bread will be a deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Allow the bread to cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 15 minutes. Run a butter knife around the perimeter of the bread and carefully turn it out onto a plate or platter.

THE BEST CARROT LAYER CAKE

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Today we are celebrating with cake because it is the ONE YEAR anniversary of The Vivid Kitchen! I feel like I’ve come a long way since my first post featuring skillet strawberry cobbler (which is still a favorite of mine, btw). This past year, I’ve been consistent with my posts but allowed myself time off when needed, I’ve gained confidence in areas of baking where I never was before (hello, cheesecake), and I’ve kind of learned to stress less about the whole process. The last one is forever a flaw of mine, so it’ll take more than a blog and a year to change that!

I started this blog because I really wanted to put my voice out there. My recipes may not be the most exciting or instagram-worthy, but I fully stand behind every single one of them. Each recipe was posted because I had a story to tell with it… none of them were random or because I thought it would “do well”. I waited for each post to happen organically and only if I could add my personality or anecdotes to it.

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Although the blog brings me a lot of joy, I do have to be honest and say that it’s hard and expensive being a food blogger. Buying the items for each post adds up, especially when you are testing a recipe multiple times or have to remake the whole thing because the pictures you shot of the first batch came out horribly. Or, how people just expect you to have a never ending supply of props for each photoshoot… different glasses, plates, bowls, napkins, cutlery, vases. And let’s talk about photo backgrounds: I see how some bloggers have at least 5 different colored wood backdrops and each of those costs over $150. And we’re not even getting into the photography side of things! Some people have multiple camera bodies, half a dozen camera lenses, the best editing software, and so on and so forth. It all adds up. And it’s tough to not compare myself to these other bloggers who have been around for years and who have all the right tools to make amazing content. I try to focus on what I have, what I can share, and hope that you’re all recognizing that I’m doing the best that I can.

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But back to the good. Years from now, I’m going to look back on this blog not only so I can refer to my favorite recipes all in one place, but also as a way to read what was happening in my life. Although I do believe in privacy, I did share a good amount of personal anecdotes and happenings in my life and because I documented them here, I know I’ll forever be grateful that I wrote about it. I really do love writing and it’s something I’ve missed ever since graduating college. So this is a definite outlet for me that I’m so lucky to have.

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With that said, I would love your feedback on my blog. What’s working? What’s not working? What recipes would you like to see more of? Less of? Would you like me to do other kinds of posts where I talk about other stuff (movies I’ve seen lately, where I buy my kitchen essentials, workouts that I’m doing, etc. etc. etc.). Seriously, let me know what you think and I really promise that I’ll take it into consideration.

Alright, let’s get to the recipe. Believe it or not but today is the first time I’m sharing a recipe for a frosted layered cake! And not any typical layered cake but the ultimate carrot cake that I’ve been making for years. It’s the one recipe I reach for to celebrate birthdays, other holidays like Mother’s Day, and I even made it for my sister’s wedding, but in cupcake form. This recipe comes from Ina Garten and it is 100% perfect with just a couple tweaks of my own added.

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A great carrot cakes needs to have a couple of things in order to achieve perfection: 1) a super moist texture - which in my recipe comes from the addition of vegetable oil and crushed pineapple. Some people add yogurt or applesauce (or nothing) in place of the pineapple, but I’m telling you, the pineapple makes the texture unbelievably good; 2) a good amount of spice - cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove all work perfectly with the sweet carrots and frosting; 3) cream cheese frosting - there’s no better cake duo than a spice-y carrot cake and a cream cheese frosting. Tangy cream cheese mixed with a healthy (re: A LOT) amount of confectioners’ sugar and butter is the perfect pairing for this cake; and 4) additional mix-ins - I don’t think I’ve ever cared for raisins but for some reason I’m of the mindset that a carrot cake without raisins isn’t a carrot cake at all. We also add pecans for extra texture and taste.

This recipe will give you two 8-inch cakes, but as you can tell from my pictures, I cut those two layers in half. I did this just for fun and also because I wanted to do a “naked”-style cake, aka a cake with less frosting. This was my first time doing it this way and I really like the way it came out! It definitely has a more rustic look to it and I’m all about that less than perfect aesthetic. Since I had more layers to frost, I therefore had less frosting to go around the overall cake. So if you want to have 4 layers, plan on having only enough frosting to do it naked-style. Otherwise, keep the two layers intact and you’ll have plenty of frosting to use up. Note: The directions below will reflect the standard 2-layer cake.

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Carrot Layer Cake w/ Cream Cheese Frosting

Yields (2) 8in. cakes

Recipe adapted from Ina Garten

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar

  • 1 1/3 cups vegetable oil

  • 3 large eggs, room temperature

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 2 1/2 cups plus 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour, divided

  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger

  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg (or fresh if you have it!)

  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves

  • 2 tsp. baking soda

  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

  • 1 lb. carrots, grated

  • 1/2 cup crushed pineapple

  • 1 cup chopped toasted pecans

  • 1 cup raisins

For the frosting:

  • 12 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

  • 8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

    1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 16 oz. (1 lb.) confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Directions

Make the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-inch cake pans, line them with parchment paper, and then butter and flour them. Set aside.

  2. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer), combine the granulated sugar, oil, and eggs. Mix on medium speed until the mixture is a pale yellow, 1-2 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and mix until incorporated.

  3. In a separate medium bowl, sift together 2 1/2 cups of the flour, all the spices, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to make sure it’s all combined.

  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients all at once and mix on low until just coming together. Add the grated carrots and crushed pineapple, and mix on low again.

  5. In a small bowl, toss the pecans and raisins with the remaining 1 tbsp. of flour (so they won’t sink to the bottom of the cake while baking). Fold these into the batter using a spatula.

  6. Pour equal amounts of batter between the two cake pans (a scale can be useful here if you’re trying to achieve perfection). Smooth the tops with a spatula and bake them in the oven for 55-60 minutes, or when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

  7. Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans before removing them.

Make the frosting:

  1. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer), cream together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract until well combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar all at once, mix on low for 10 seconds, and then mix on medium speed until frosting is smooth.

  2. Place one of the layers on a cake stand or plate. With a butter knife or offset spatula, spread a thick even layer of the frosting on top. Carefully stack the second layer on top of the frosting and frost the entire cake, including the sides. Decorate the cake with pecans, pineapple, or flowers. Store the leftovers in the fridge.

FRESH MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP ICE CREAM

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And just like that, it’s springtime. Even though in my last post I was craving summer and all the flavors and desserts that come with it, I of course wasn’t going to brush over spring! It’s a time when everything is blooming and coming back to life, and I’ll never get over how beautiful it is. Living in an apartment, I so look forward to the day when I’ll have my own house with a huge backyard (a girl can dream, ok?) where I’ll harvest my own fruits and veggies, and have flowers everywhere. Until that day, I’ll settle on having little flower pots dedicated to certain herbs and random house plants in my living room that brighten up the place.

One herb plant that I keep in my kitchen window is mint, which if you’re a gardener, you know is a plant that is nearly impossible to kill. It thrives in sun and shade perennially and has the tendency to spread and conquer as much territory as it can. To combat this weed-like herb, you must pick and trim it, and what better way to use up that mint than making homemade ice cream!

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I’ve always been a huge fan of mint chocolate chip ice cream, but over the years, I’ve honed in on what to me “mint ice cream” means. When I was younger, store-bought neon colored and artificially flavored mint versions reigned supreme in my house. It’s what most people in America are used to when they think of mint ice cream - the color has to be that greenish blue. When I got a little older, I remember my mom coming home with a tub of Breyers mint chip and I was seriously skeptical of it because it wasn’t a green color, but rather a creamy white. The moment I took a bite, I was blown away and vouched to never touch any brand that added dyes to their ice cream. FYI, to this day, if I’m ever too lazy to make my own, Breyers ice cream is still the winner for me in that department.

And then once again, a couple years later, I had another epiphany with mint ice cream. My dad and I went to Sweet Rose Creamery at the Brentwood Country Mart in LA for the first time because we both share a love of ice cream and wanted to check out the shop. My dad ordered a brownie ice cream sundae with vanilla ice cream and I opted to try a scoop of their “fresh” mint ice cream. I was completely taken aback by the taste of it - after years of artificially flavored mint ice cream and added dyes, I could not believe that I had been missing out on the real thing for so long. Fresh mint ice cream is truly a different experience than what you can find at the grocery store and really tastes light, fresh, and worlds better than the fake stuff.

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So when I eventually got an ice cream maker for Christmas later that year (2012), I chose to make mint chocolate chip ice cream for my first ever homemade batch. And let me tell you: it was a struggle. I of course chose a recipe (the one below!) that probably wasn’t best for a beginner and I remember having my mom help me along every step of the way. To be clear, this was not only marking the beginning of me making ice cream, but also when I was just getting into baking and was less than an amateur. So for example, I had no idea how to temper eggs when making the custard-based ice cream, whereas today, it’s something that doesn't even phase me. Anyway, somehow my mom and I figured out how to make the mint ice cream and I’m pretty sure I cried tears of joy after my first bite. I think I’ve said this before, but making homemade ice cream is quite the accomplishment and something to be proud of. I still get giddy with excitement after every batch I make.

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This recipe requires a little more than 2 cups of fresh mint, which is a lot, so chances are that your garden may not have enough for this recipe. And that’s fine! You can use a mixture of store bought fresh mint and some of your own (or all store bought if you don’t have a garden, of course). Trader Joe’s sells organic fresh mint for a great price. As for the “chocolate chip” aspect of this ice cream, I’m finally able to give my trick for getting those evenly distributed chocolate flecks that you see in my pictures. Instead of chopping up a chocolate bar or adding chocolate chips to the finished ice cream, I melt my chocolate and slowly pour it into the ice cream maker while it’s churning, but almost done. This allows the chocolate to break up into tiny pieces and therefore gives a creamier texture without having bites with big pieces of chocolate in it. If you’re familiar with Thrifty’s chocolate chip and mint chip ice creams, the texture is most similar to theirs (aka the best!).

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Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

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Yields about 1 quart

Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk

  • 2 cups heavy cream, divided

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

  • Pinch of salt

  • 2 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves

  • 5 large egg yolks

  • 5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (in chip or bar form)

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, warm up the milk, 1 cup of the heavy cream, granulated sugar and salt over medium heat. Do not let it come to a simmer. Add the mint leaves to the pan and stir until every leaf is immersed in the liquid. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a lid, and let it sit at room temperature for an hour.

  2. Place a strainer over a medium/large saucepan, and pour the mint/milk mixture through (the mint leaves will be left in the strainer). Using a spatula, press down firmly on the mint leaves, making sure to get any and all liquid out of them. In a large bowl, add the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream and set a strainer over the top (use a bowl that will be able to fit over an ice bath for later).

  3. Over medium-low heat, rewarm the mint-infused mixture. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Just as the milk mixture is beginning to simmer, gradually add some of it to the bowl of egg yolks, whisking constantly as to not scramble the eggs (this is called tempering). Once the egg yolk mixture temperature has raised, pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Stir constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture thickens and coats the back of your spatula or spoon.

  4. Pour the mixture over the strainer-lined bowl and stir the mint-custard in with the heavy cream that is already in the bowl. Let the ice cream base sit over an ice bath for about an hour before moving to the refrigerator. Chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

  5. Churn the ice cream in your maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. When the ice cream is almost finished churning, melt the chocolate in a microwave and slowly pour it into the ice cream maker (while it’s still on). This will create tiny chocolate flecks all through out the ice cream. If big globs are created, simply use a spatula to help break it up. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until solid.

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I’d like to dedicate this post to my dog niece, Dolce. This beautiful girl had to be put down on Wednesday (the first day of spring), and to say that I’m devastated is a severe understatement. I have a million pictures of her goofy, expressive face and it was hard to choose just one. Here she is with her bone looking crazy happy, and sitting on her mom and dad’s bed.

I love you babygirl and I’ll miss giving you tons of kisses, which you always let me do. You made a lot of people smile, but made your mom and dad the happiest.