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).

An Easy Borscht

Beets are a lovely addition to your winter diet. There is something about their bright hue that seems to add a touch of color to a dreary, grey day. And usually anything with color is a welcome addition to a child’s diet. My toddler daughter likes to call borscht “strawberry soup.” Beets are rich sources of potassium, iron, and vitamin-C. Their lovely red juice can be a blood purifier, may lower high blood pressure, and can aid in the breakdown of kidney stones. In fact, beet juice has been touted to counteract anemia and iron deficiency, and has even been credited to help defeat cancer in some patients.

There are numerous versions of borscht; some with meat and some completely vegetarian. But I think I could safely say I prefer a vegetarian borscht, that is, unless I have some leftover roast lingering in the fridge. If at all possible, buy organic beets, since they are root vegetables and readily soak up pesticides from the ground, as well as from above ground, exposing your body to more chemicals that I’m sure you would like to keep far, far away. This soup is fairly easy to make and extremely uncomplicated. Just be sure to wear an apron and a set of gloves while preparing the beets, or you may just become bright red from head to toe!

4 medium beets, peeled and grated
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into small pieces
2 c. chicken stock
6 c. water
2 Tbl. fresh dill, finely chopped (plus more for garnish)
1 tsp. sugar
salt, pepper to taste
Greek yogurt, or sour cream
olive oil

Prepare the beets and other vegetables, separately; set aside. In a large saucepan or small stock pot, heat some olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped vegetables and then the grated beets. Sprinkle the sugar on top. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Allow the mixture to cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the 2 Tbl. of dill, chicken stock, and water. Stir everything together. Turn down the heat to low and cover. Be sure that your soup does not boil too rigorously, or else you will have little spouts of beet juice just about every where on your stove top and over your floor. Allow the soup to cook for about 45 minutes. Taste and season accordingly.

Serve warm with a dollop of thick Greek yogurt or sour cream, and a small handful of freshly chopped dill. (The cooked dill will become dull in color, and adding some fresh dill boosts the soup’s overall appearance.) Alternatively, you could serve this soup chilled for lunch.

Beet Salad

Beets are a welcome sight in the farmer’s market during the long winter months. They certainly add a splash of color to the endless tones of greens. Beets, despite being simply delicious, are very good for your health, particularly in women. There is a widely held misconception that calcium is best obtained from dairy products and the mostly awful, chalk-like substances bottled as calcium supplements. Sorry to tell you, but the most effective way to absorb more calcium into your body is through vegetable consumption. You might as well stop paying out the nose for expensive calcium supplements and start including more vegetables, such as cabbage, dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard greens), carrots, broccoli, and yes, beets. And don’t throw the stems away before you cook them! They are delicious and packed with calcium, too.

There are quite a number of ways to prepare beets, but this recipe is how I usually end up preparing them for dinner. Beets, although a little messy in preparation, are simply divine. I love tasting their deep, earthiness in every bite. They just make you feel good while you’re eating them! Thank god for bleach, because usually once my children are done with dinner, my white table cloth could use some love…..

Separate the beets from their stalks and leaves, reserving leaves for later use.

1 bunch beets; rinsed, trimmed, and halved

2 Tbl. butter

1 clove garlic; pressed through garlic press, or smashed and finely diced

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/4 c. olive oil

splash of balsamic vinegar

small handful of chopped parsley, or dried oregano for garnish

In a medium-sized pan, place the beets and cover with water. Cover pan; bring to boil; reduce heat to low and allow the pan’s cover to open slightly. Depending on their size, the beets should cook through in about 45 minutes. You may need to add some more water, so check back from time to time. Test with a fork to see if beets are cooked. The fork should easily slide into the beet if it’s done. Drain and run under cold water to aid in removing the skins. **I wear plastic gloves to remove the skins because the beets will stain your hands.** Once the beets are peeled, chop into sizes of your preference.

Quickly rinse out the pan you used to cook the beets in, and add the butter. Chop your reserved beet leaves and stalks into small pieces and add to the pan. Cover and allow to sauté on low heat until the leaves become soft; about 8 minutes. Add the chopped beet roots, garlic, salt and pepper, oil and vinegar. Carefully combine ingredients with a spoon and transfer to a serving bowl; garnish with chopped parsley. May be eaten warm or at room temperature.