Banana Chocolate Chip Pecan Muffins

I recently took a trip to Costa Rica, and now I'm going through withdrawals from not having my daily fresh juice and pinto gallo.  The fruit in Costa Rica is amazing and so fresh and delicious.  My host's yard was full of mango trees, papaya trees and various other tropical fruits.  Picking and eating a fresh mango in the sun gives you a feeling of complete happiness.  Especially when that said-mango is the best mango you've ever eaten in your life.

My favorite were the Alphonso mangoes - smaller with more flavor.  The papayas were good, too; we made milkshakes with them for dessert one night. Apparently papayas are great for digestion and help keep you regular. The more you know!

My host in Costa Rica was an incredible cook and everything she made was delicious, whether it was arroz con pollo or her peach tres leches cake.  One morning she made banana pancakes with a hearty dash of ground cinnamon.  I can't describe how good it smelled cooking, with the warm breeze flowing through the open kitchen, sipping on a cup of cafe con leche.  

I couldn't get the buttery banana pancake smell out of my nose, even after getting back home, ten hours later.  If only I could have brought back bananas into the United States from Costa Rica.  Luckily, there were a few ripe ones on the counter that needed to be used up.  I made one giant banana pancake for myself, then I baked a batch of banana chocolate chip pecan muffins for everyone else in the house.

These were perfect; big, bountiful, fluffy banana muffins loaded with dark chocolate chips and toasted pecans.  Next on my list of things to make: peach tres leches cake and arroz con leche.

Feel free to follow along with my other Costa Rican eats on my Instagram.

Banana Chocolate Chip Pecan Muffins

2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 large ripe banana
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a 6 cup muffin tin with cooking spray or line with paper liners.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a large mixing bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat together butter, brown sugar, banana and vanilla until creamy.  Beat in egg yolks until well combined.  Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in flour mixture, alternating with milk until just combined.  Stir in chocolate chips and pecans until just combined. Sprinkle with a dash of raw sugar or coarse sea salt, if desired.

Divide batter into cups.  Bake 35-40 minutes or until well risen, golden brown and a toothpick inserted into muffin cups out with moist crumbs attached.  Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 6 big muffins

Peanut Butter Dream Bars

These bars are perfect to nibble on with a cup of coffee or tea.  They're undeniably rich, so you may or may not be able to finish eating a bar in one sitting.  The inspiration behind these bars comes from Potbelly's Dream Bars.  Potbelly is a really great sandwich chain, and whenever I frequent airports and see one, I have to stop and get a Wreck Sandwich and a cup of broccoli cheddar soup.  Next to the cash register at Potbelly they have a display of cookies and bars, one of which is their Dream Bar.

Dream Bars are rich, chocolatey oatmeal bars with sweet caramel.  This recipe is my adaptation of Dream Bars; I added chunky peanut butter, white chocolate chips and dark chocolate chips.  I really love the crumbly, buttery texture of these.  For the caramel, I used the caramel bits that are already unwrapped - much easier than unwrapping fifty caramels.

Peanut Butter Dream Bars

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup old fashioned oatmeal
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 bag of unwrapped caramel bits
5 tablespoons evaporated milk
Sprinkle of sea salt.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a 13x9-inch baking dish with foil; coat foil with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat together butter, peanut butter and brown sugar until creamy.  Beat in oatmeal, baking powder and flour until just combined.  Stir in chocolate chips and white chocolate chips until combined.  Pat half of the mixture into bottom of prepared pan.  Bake 10 minutes.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt caramel bits and evaporated milk, stirring frequently.  Pour caramel on top of bars.  Sprinkle remaining dough evenly on top.  Bake 15-20 minutes more or until golden brown.  Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt.  Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Makes 12 big bars

Tahini Vanilla Bean Blondies

I've been getting that old desire to blog again.  And bake!  I've mostly been doing a lot of cooking recently, with inspiration from Vietnamese and Japanese cuisine.  I just love the flavor of sesame so, so much.  I'm a big fan of seed pastes/butters, especially tahini  Also, I had these lovely vanilla beans that my mom gave me for my birthday (Christmas??) one year and needed to use them.  Voila, there's the inspiration behind my Tahini Vanilla Bean Blondies.

The vanilla beans are infused with browned butter, then the mixture is whipped with eggs, tahini and dark brown sugar.After folding in some baking soda, salt, flour and white chocolate chips, the mixture is spread into a pan and sprinkled with sesame seeds and coarse sea salt.  Give these a try!  I think you'll really love the salty, nutty, caramel flavor.  Also, I think these would still be fabulous if you left out the white chocolate chips or just used vanilla extract.

Hope y'all have a great Galentine's Day and Valentine's Day!

Tahini Vanilla Bean Blondies

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split, seeded
1 1/3 cups dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup tahini
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds
Pinch of coarse sea salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line an 8x8-inch baking dish with foil; coat foil with cooking spray.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Cook and whisk until butter starts to turn golden and foam - about 3-5 minutes.  Remove pan from heat and whisk in vanilla beans.  Cool 5 minutes.

Pour butter in a large bowl and add brown sugar; beat together using a mixer on medium speed until combined.  Beat in eggs and tahini until well combined - about 2-3 minutes.  Beat in salt and baking soda until well combined.  Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in flour until just combined.  Stir in white chocolate chips until combined.

Spread mixture into prepared pan.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds and sea salt.  Bake 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into blondies comes out with moist crumbs attached. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 12 blondies