Valentine’s Day Banana-Beet Muffins

I have a delicious recipe from my grandmother for banana bars that I have adapted many times into cakes, cupcakes, and muffins with varying flavors and toppings.  So when I was deciding what to make for Valentine’s Day for my son’s pre-school class, I saw a couple aging bananas and decided to experiment.  This is what I came up with:

Banana-Beet Muffins

1/2 c. butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 c. (8 oz.) plain or vanilla-flavored yogurt (The original recipe calls for sour cream, but yogurt works just as well.)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. mashed ripe bananas
1/4 c. pureed beets

Note:
Beets are what I like to call all-natural food coloring. Red beet juice or puree adds a lot of color, but little flavor to baked goods and other sweets. For instructions on how to make this, see below, or read our previous post about pureeing vegetables. Alternatively, you can use one full cup of mashed bananas, which is how this recipe is made with my grandmother’s original recipe.

Directions:

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to the creamed mixture. Stir in the bananas and beets. Spoon the batter into lined muffin tins, filling about 2/3 full. To make the muffins heart-shaped, add a glass marble between the liner and the tin to make an indentation in the liner and how the muffins bake. (The marbles won’t make the muffins look like “perfect” hearts, but the frosting and sliced strawberries can help further define the shape.)

Bake at 350° for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool. Yields about 2 dozen.

Decorating the muffins:

My grandmother’s recipe recommends a basic cream cheese frosting on the banana bars, which is decadent (recipe below). But for this batch, I decided to make a pink-tinted yogurt glaze that is just as delicious, but a tad bit healthier for the small bodies that would be consuming the muffins.

Pink Yogurt Glaze

4 Tbsp. butter, room temperature
1/4 to 1/3 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
4 oz. plain or flavored yogurt (vanilla and strawberry flavors work nicely)
1-2 tsp. pureed beets (optional, for color)

8-10 strawberries

Cream together the butter and sugar, then add the vanilla, yogurt, and beet puree. Stir until blended. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Cut the stem off the strawberries with two inward cuts to make them look like a heart, then slice lengthwise, making sure to preserve the heart shape. You should get 3-4 slices per strawberry. Frost the muffins and top with a strawberry slice. Store in the refrigerator. Use any extra yogurt glaze as a fruit dip.

Cream Cheese Frosting

4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
4 Tbsp. butter, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 to 2 c. powdered sugar

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla. Gradually add enough powdered sugar to reach your desired consistency.

Pureed Beets — There are several ways to cook the beets, but I like to wrap them in foil (like a baked potato) and set them in the oven for about 1-1.5 hours while something else is cooking. Anywhere from 350-400° works well. After they cool, unwrap them carefully (beet juice stains!) and peel them. Avoid touching them directly too much so that your hands don’t get stained red. Mash them with a potato masher or ricer or puree them in a food processor.  Add a little water (one tablespoon at a time), if needed.  Use right away or store in an air-tight container in pre-measured amounts (ice cube trays are great for this).

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Yes, We Have No Bananas

A few days ago, I returned from a family vacation, which was spent on an island off Puerto Rico. A magical, idyllic place is this island, with numerous coral reefs, affording the snorkeler with views of turtles, sting rays, and tropical fish. Of course, when one dreams of such an island, they probably assume there exists a cornucopia of tropical fruit growing natively on the land. At least, that’s what I thought when I first visited the island a few years ago. Boy, was I sadly disappointed to learn that not only does the island not have any edible delicacies growing within its shores, there aren’t any vegetables or fresh fruit available to its inhabitants, except for an occasional tangerine or apple imported from the U.S. There are three supermarkets on the island, which basically are the equivalent to gas station mini marts! All the island’s natives are forced to take a ferry, 1 1/2 hours each way, to the main island of Puerto Rico to do their major grocery stopping, or wait for the vegetable truck which may, or may not, show up Friday mornings.

Having spent a good deal of time in the Greek isles, where seafood is plentiful on every tavern’s menu, I found it strikingly strange that the Puerto Rican island we were visiting did not offer much regarding seafood. After speaking with a few people we met on our vacation, there exist only a couple of spear gun fishermen on the island. So you can imagine, there isn’t much fresh seafood to go around. If there was any fresh fish on a restaurant’s menu, it was usually fried whole! Most of the entire native population consumes rice, beans, plantains, chicken, pork, and / or beef on a daily basis, all of which are imported (except for the occasional chicken) and are commonly served fried.

This made me stop and think how fortunate my family truly is. At the tips of my fingers, I have some of the very best food markets available. I can buy organic produce, meats, and dairy, as well as shop locally with fabulous farmer’s markets scattered throughout my city’s neighborhoods. It’s easy to ignore problems when they’re not sitting directly in your line of view. Living in New York City, I’m not faced with the problems of obesity on a daily basis, despite the staggering statistic that currently 1/3 of the earth’s population is obese. That’s right, I said 1/3! Sadly, many of the wonderful natives we have met and befriended over the years suffer from obesity. And, of course, together with obesity, there’s the number one disease that our population is faced with today: diabetes. It’s hard to tell someone to change their diet when there are truly no other options available to them.

Many people are forced to choose low quality food due to economic situations. Unfortunately, it’s less expensive for someone to buy a highly-processed meal at McDonald’s than it is to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. But there are those of us out there with the economic means and opportunities to make the better choice. So the next time you visit your supermarket, be grateful for the simple things in life, like grape tomatoes, a leafy head of lettuce, or….. a banana. Someone living in “paradise” might not be so lucky.