Cousin Martin, in his frequent travels to Costa Rica, always seeks out locally-produced cookbooks for me. I adapted these muffins from a banana cake recipe in one of his recent finds, The Best Recipes: Costa Rica, published by Ediciones Jadine S.A. in San José. When I made the cake according to the original recipe, I wasn't thrilled with the texture, though the flavor was nicely spiced and not too sweet. After a tweak here and there, and the last-minute addition of a handful of chocolate chips to half of the batter, I'm happy to recommend these muffins to you. The flavor of banana takes center stage, and you'll love the subtle notes of clove and vanilla, too. Eliminate the nuts if they're not your thing, or add more chocolate chips. Serve these muffins with afternoon tea or morning coffee, or sneak one into your child's lunch box.
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"When I read your post about how much you love Bundt pans, what choice did I have but to run out to my studio and make you one?" Lorna wrote in an email a couple of weeks ago. "This one is wheel-thrown stoneware that has been glazed with food safe colorants and fired to 2250 degrees in a gas kiln. To thank you for the many lovely dishes we've enjoyed courtesy of your creativity, I would love to send this to you." I'm so deeply honored to have this beautiful addition to my kitchen, and to inaugurate it, I baked Lorna's sour cream cake from a recipe she sent along with the pan. If you don't have a small Bundt pan like this one (it's a five-cup size), make this recipe in a standard loaf pan. Beware: this moist, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth cake, perfect for afternoon tea or breakfast or brunch, is ever so slightly addictive. I know, because my husband Ted and I kept cutting slices and nibbling until it was all gone. Lorna, thank you for your kindness.
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My friend Peter, who runs a pousada in Brazil, recently passed through New England on one of those whirlwind, must-see-everyone visits that are always, always, always too short. We had a very small window in which to get together, and I planned to surprise him with brigadeiros, a traditional Brazilian chocolate truffle-like treat. Unfortunately, Peter and I missed each other on this visit, but the urge to make brigadeiros stayed with me. Named for Brigadier Eduardo Gomes, who ran for president of Brazil in 1922, these sweets were made by adoring female supporters, and sold to raise money for his campaign. The brigadier lost, but the chocolatey caramel bonbons endured. I used Ghirardelli sweetened ground chocolate, which more closely resembles the cocoa powder you'd find in Brazil; if you don't have any sweetened cocoa powder, try powdered hot chocolate mix. The chocolate sprinkles are traditional, but I couldn't resist the multi-colored ones. I'm sure the brigadier would have loved them.
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On one of those days when silly little things were going wrong -- the bank machine was out of cash, and the office where I need to get my dump sticker was closed at 11 a.m. for no reason at all -- I absolutely, positively needed chocolate to restore my equilibrium. With no stash of candy or brownies in the house, I pulled out a recipe I've been saving for months from Ingredient, a cooking magazine for children. Chocolate cake in a mug (or an old glass measuring cup), made in less than two minutes. Almost like a brownie, the cake, kicked up from the original recipe with grown-up pantry items (walnuts, cinnamon, crystallized ginger, sea salt), delivered nearly instant gratification. The dump sticker could wait.
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Wrap the most humble pantry ingredients in a sheet of puff pastry, and what comes out of the oven will look as glamorous as a movie star. And if, like me, you don't make your puff pastry from scratch, the most difficult part of creating a great dessert will be waiting for the pastry to defrost. My husband Ted and I raided the pantry one Sunday afternoon to put together a filling for these flaky brown sugar and walnut puff pastry swirls. A bit of lemon zest balances the sweetness, and if you have almonds or pecans in your freezer, go and ahead substitute for the walnuts. Figure on two or three per person. Really fun to make with kids, these sweet puff pastries are dressy enough for any dinner party, yet easy enough for weeknight treats, too.
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