Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Candies? Cookies? Breads? Nuts?.....

I've changed my mind at least twenty times concerning what I should send out in my Valentine Day packages. Initially I was intrigued by a Martha Stewart column in the globe that offered advice on creating your own heart shaped candy boxes. While I've never actually made candy before it did seem an appropriate and thoughtful gift. Plus, I've been meaning to experiment with different cooking methods (although I was leaning more towards homemade pasta / bread, not candy). Therefore, for a couple of days, I was set on shipping out boxes of chocolates for my valentines.

In order to get the necessary homemade-box supplies as well as the cupcake like inserts for the candies, I needed a craft store. You would think that this would be an easy task living in a city like Boston. Not so. The closest large-chain craft stores are in Natick, about forty minutes away. I suppose I could have found the necessary supplies at other stores (Papyrus, Crate and Barrel, or Williams and Sonoma) but I was trying to spend as little as possible and also looking for a large selection. Anyway, I didn't get to the craft store over the weekend. Instead we went to Russo's, a hidden gem wholesale vegetable and produce store, located in Watertown. I could go on, and on, and on.... and on about how amazing this store is (this really says a lot seeing as I'm from Rochester and the birthplace of Wegmans) but I will save that for a different day. I know that once I start, they'll be no stopping me.

After Russo's, our fridge was stocked with all sorts of fresh produce and vegetables. (All for a mere thirty dollars, but more on that later.) I had purchased bananas at Wholefoods a few days earlier and knew they'd rot before Alex or I ate them. Bananas just aren't that appealing when you have juicy, fresh cut pineapple- plump, sour grapes- and steroid size strawberries staring back at you. Knowing I had bananas on hand that needed tending to, I decided to give banana bread another go. (I'd made an attempt at banana bread on our old un-working stove and wound up with a burnt black top and oozing raw egg center. This time around, my expectations were rather low and if I was unsuccessful it's likely I'd have been turned off forever.)

To make the bread a little more unique I decided to bake it in mini-loaf tins. I figured it was more likely to be eaten this way since we could just throw it in our backpacks on the way to class. I was right! We've already eaten half the batch and I don't feel compelled to take the remainders to work. I doubt they'll go unfinished. Also, the recipe I used is low fat and contains only 1/4 cup butter. The guilt factor is pretty low.

Although I added a couple of ingredients the recipe is from Cooking Light's new book.

Traditional Banana Bread:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 2 large eggs
- 3 cups of smashed ripe bananas
- 1/3 cup plain low-fat yogurt (I used vanilla)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat over to 350

2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt, stirring with a whisk.

3. Place sugar and butter in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 1 minute). Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add banana, yogurt, and vanilla, beat until blended. Add flour mixture, beat at low speed just until moist.

4. Add Chocolate chips and chopped pecans stirring until mixed.

5. Spoon batter into pan (Large, 8X4-inch loaf pans or mini-loaf pans) coated with cooking spray. Bake for thirty minutes if using mini loaf pan and 60 if using 8x4 dish.

After my success with this recipe I thought it would make the perfect addition to my valentine box. Plus, I knew bread would ship a lot easier then chocolates and my family would be grateful for an easy breakfast. I thus changed my valentine gift box to include chocolate-orange cookies, as well as Hidden Kiss cookies and mini bread loafs.

However, just as I thought my shopping list was finalized, I woke up with a new idea. How about sending out spiced mixed nuts, caramel flavored popcorn, and mini bread loafs? It seems a more likely candidate for mail delivery and also appeases to my families taste buds. I know that my dad will love the spiced nuts and my mom will enjoy the popcorn. I think the bread is a nice addition for both my brother and my grandmother who will love a breakfast that offers more excitement then cereal. Finally, I've got it- this is the perfect Valentines gift!!

I'll let you know what actually makes it into those cute & crafty boxes come V-Day!

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