Banana Nut Bread

So I’m sitting here in my kitchen enjoying a warm slice of banana nut bread and french vanilla coffee.  It’s one of my favorite things about the Fall…pulling a warm loaf of bread out of the oven and enjoying it while relaxing.  I normally am not a big fan of bananas but the combination of spices and warm bread just make my taste buds tingle.

The key to making a delicious banana nut bread is using over ripe bananas.  I would advise buying them a week in advance and putting them in a paper bag.  There is a gas they release that will help them ripen faster.  This also works if you have other fruit like peaches that you want to ripen faster.  Place the fruit in a bag with some bananas and in a couple of days viola, ripened fruit!


1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for preparing the pan
1 cup sugar
3 very ripe bananas, peeled, and mashed with a fork (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Sift the flour, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl, set aside. Whisk the eggs and vanilla together in a liquid measuring cup with a spout, set aside. Lightly brush a 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf with butter and sprinkle lightly with flour.

In a standing mixer cream the butter and sugar on medium speed (I use the 4 speed on Kitchen Aid mixers) until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Gradually pour the egg mixture into the butter while mixing until well blended. Add the bananas (the mixture will appear to be curdled, so don’t worry), and remove the bowl from the mixer.

With a rubber spatula, mix in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Fold in the nuts and transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Turn the bread out of the pan and let cool completely on the rack. Wrap in plastic wrap or place in a cake dome. The banana bread is best if served the next day.


Recipe adapted from The Food Network


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Corn Flour Cupcakes with Raspberry Buttercream {and Cookbook Giveaway!}

Hello NCJ Peeps!

Here is the winner of the Quick & Easy Low-Cal Vegan Comfort Food book giveaway:

#6 Jenna Z: “Wow, favorite veg dish of any kind?! I am a huge fan of dal, especially a red lentil dal spiced with cumin and garam masala. Yummy!”

Congratulations! (I will be also notifying you by email.)

And thank you to everyone for sharing their favorite veggie dishes!

♥ Nina

The Giveaway:


I am so proud of my friend, Alicia Simpson, for putting out her third cookbook this year!  So in honor of her latest achievement I will be giving away a copy of her latest cookbook: Quick & Easy Low-Cal Vegan Comfort Food.  Alicia and I go way way back to our college years.  We stayed in the same dorm right down the hall from each other and I distinctly remember some late night shenanigans that will go down in history, and stay there, LOL!  One day while I was perusing Facebook I saw her status update.  I was pleasantly surprised to see her writing her own line of vegan cookbooks and even though I’m not vegan the pictures had me drooling!  I was intrigued.

So what’s this book about?

150 satisfying, flavorful, all-new recipes to enjoy from breakfast to dinner and anytime in between. However you define “comfort food,” Alicia’s got you covered with down-home Southern standards, Tex-Mex fiesta favorites, backyard BBQ fare, ole-fashioned one-dish meals, riffs on classic takeout—and a few surprises destined to become new standbys.

And they do not lie.  It’s all that and more!  I love how Alicia uses fresh ingredients to make comforting food that is pretty much guilt free (think Baked Hush Puppies, Sweet Potato Salad, Carolina BBQ Sammich, Butter Rum Pound Cake, Mexican Hot Cocoa and more).  The recipes are easy to follow and the flavors and textures almost leap straight off of the page.   I am sincerely excited to make more recipes from her fabulous book, and I’m also excited that 1 lucky reader will win their own copy!   But, let’s talk more about the recipe I made to share with you, these Corn Flour Cupcakes with Raspberry Buttercream. . .

First, let me start by saying that I love meat and really enjoy eating it (ok that came out wrong) but you get what I’m saying!  Secondly, if you’re like me you’re probably wondering what the heck is the difference between vegans and regular vegetarians.  Well according to Wikipedia:

A dietary vegan is one who abstains from including animal products (not only meat and fish, but also dairy products, eggs and often honey, as well as other animal-derived substances) from his/her diet.

That being said you don’t have to be a vegan to enjoy vegan recipes!!  Amazing I know, but so true.  I will admit I was a skeptic but after trying some of the recipes in Quick & Easy Low-Cal Vegan Comfort Food I am a changed woman!  I had a hard time deciding what to cook for this post because there was so much that I wanted to try.  After a lot of debate I settled on Corn Flour Cupcakes with Raspberry Butter cream Frosting.  Sounds good, right?  Right!  The cupcake was delicious but the real star is the frosting.  Light and fluffy with a hint of raspberries (or more if you want).  I will be using this on my non-vegan cupcakes in the near future.  Every time I ate one of these cupcakes all I had to tell myself was this is only 178 calories!   I was sold.

Here are the details and how to enter this giveaway:

1. Leave a comment and tell me, “What is your favorite vegetarian dish?”

2. For an extra entry, tweet: ”I want to win a copy of @VeganGuineaPig’s book from @NinasCooking!” Simply come back here and leave a comment telling me you tweeted.

3. Contest ends Sunday, October 28th, 2012 at 11:59 pm (EST) and winner will be selected using and notified by email and announced here on the blog. You must leave a valid email address (will not be displayed) in your entry.

4. One entry per person, please (or two, with tweet). *Your comment may not appear at first, but it’s there.

*Prize courtesy of The Experiment Publishing. Contest is open to US and Canadian residents only.  This is the third in a series of cookbooks by Alicia, check out Quick & Easy Vegan Comfort Food and Quick & Easy Vegan Celebrations.

Good luck, everyone!

Now, here’s the recipe, shared with permission and as written in the book:


For corn flour cupcakes:

3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup corn flour (can be found in the organic section)
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup plain almond milk
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup plain soy yogurt  (can be found in the organic section)

For raspberry buttercream frosting:

1 tbsp vegetable shortening
1 tbsp Earth Balance margarine, softened
1 tbsp raspberry jam or preserves
1/8 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup confectioners sugar


For corn flour cupcakes:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a muffin pan with paper liners.  Stir together the all-purpose flour, confectioners’ sugar, baking powder and salt until combined.  Add the shortening, milk vanilla and yogurt and beat with an electric mixer at medium speed, scraping the mixture from the sides often, until just blended.

Divide the batter equally among the lined muffin cups.  Bake for 20 to 22 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.  Let cool.

For raspberry buttercream frosting:

Beat together the shortening, margarine, jam and almond extract with an electric mixer until thoroughly combined.  Add the confectioners’ sugar and whip until smooth.  Frost the cooled cupcakes using all the frosting.

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Late Night Baking Party – Cheddar Chive Cornbread

The first Late Night Baking Party on Nina’s Cooking Journey was a huge success!  There were submissions from several bloggers and NCJ Peeps and I cannot thank you all enough for joining me in this weird experiment of mine.  All the recipes looked amazing and I can’t wait to try some of them myself.  I even Ustreamed during the party and got to know some of you all a little better and hopefully you got to know me.  I will definitely be hosting another party so if you have any ideas for a fun virtual party please let me know!  I wasn’t able to share all of the posts but here are some of the recipes from some of my favorite blogger friends.  Feel free to check out a few more posts from NCJ Peeps on my Facebook Page.  A big thanks to you all…you rock!


Banana Pumpkin Nutella Bread from Christine’s Kitchen Chronicles


Old Fashioned Apple Crisp with Caramel Sauce from Noshing with the Nolads


Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes from Tortillas and Honey


Maple Bacon Busciuts from Dixie Chik Cooks


Chickpea Chocolate Cupcakes from I Breath…I’m Hungry

Apple Spice Cake from Cooking with Elise


And finally, my contribution Cheddar Chive Cornbread.  My mom makes THE BEST cornbread from scratch and usually doesn’t deviate from her recipe.  So I was extremely surprised when she put this on the dinner table one night.  I thought it would be perfect with the Spicy Chili I made the other week and I was right.  It adds a Tex-Mex feel to a traditional southern dish.


1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 3 tbsp yellow cornmeal
3 tbsp plus 2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp baking powder
1¼ tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 tbsp light corn syrup
1¼ cups buttermilk
¾ cup unsalted butter (1½ sticks), melted over low heat and set aside
½ cup sliced scallions (about ¼ inch wide)
4 oz. sharp yellow cheddar, shredded (use more if you prefer)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.  Using a separate medium-size bowl, whisk together wet ingredients.   Slowly add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, whisking well to combine.  Add melted butter to the batter, stirring slowly to incorporate.  Finish by folding in chopped scallions and cheddar cheese.

Grease a 9-inch cast-iron skillet with 1 tablespoon of butter and then pour in batter.  Bake until edges are a little crispy and top is golden brown, about 60 minutes.

Remove from oven and place skillet on a cooling rack.  The cast iron retains its heat and will continue to cook the cornbread.  Let cool a bit before serving to allow the cornbread to set.

Recipe adapted from Garden & Gun

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Visit to the Farmer’s Market

One of the great things about working in downtown Chicago is the access to all the wonderful restaurants and eclectic people.  So no one could have been more surprised than me to walk out of my building for lunch and find a farmer’s market set up right in the middle of Daley Plaza!  I was so excited that I forgot to eat lunch and instead went on a shopping spree that left me on a foodie high.  I got such a rush when I saw all of the fresh produce and food that I felt like a geek but hey, it’s the small things that make me happy 🙂  The only thing that stopped me, luckily, was my inability to carry any more bags.

Of course I couldn’t let this opportunity pass without taking a few pics!  I actually took these with my cell phone but they came out pretty good don’t you think?

A few people gave me weird looks when I got on my knees and started arranging fruits and vegetables so I could take a picture.  This nice lady was actually in line to buy tomatoes and she kindly stepped back while I took my photos, lol.  I didn’t know how to explain what I was doing so I just said thank you and moved on.

Aside from all of the fresh food, I was in awe of the beautiful colors.  Literally a rainbow of food, I hope I captured it adequately for you.

It’s almost the end of the summer so if there’s a farmer’s market near you make sure you visit and take advantage of the fresh produce that will only be in season for a little while longer.

 Stay tuned for part 2 of my visit to the farmer’s market.  I think they’re in town until October so watch out, here I come (with my DSLR camera this time)!

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Peach Cobbler

This is the final post in my week long series on peaches and I decided to go out with a bang.  If you’re from Chicago then you know that many African Amercans  here have roots in Mississippi and I am no exception.  Needless to say I love southern food!  On holidays we eat food like collard greens with ham hocks, turkey dressing, cornbread, black eyed peas, honey glazed ham and my favorite peach cobbler.  My mom makes an awesome peach cobbler but if you’ve read some of my previous posts you know that she keeps those recipes under lock and key.  So I went on a mission to make my own version which she actually admitted tasted just as good (maybe even better, haha!).



1 1/2 cup self-rising flour
8 tablespoon (1 stick) butter
2 cup sugar, divided
1 large can sliced peaches, heavy syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup milk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the peaches, 1 cup sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla in a pot and mix well. Bring to a boil and simmer covered for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Put the butter in a 3-quart baking dish and place in oven to melt.

Mix remaining 1 cup sugar, flour, and milk slowly to prevent clumping. Pour mixture over melted butter. Do not stir. Spoon fruit on top, gently pouring in syrup. Sprinkle top with ground cinnamon, if using. Batter will rise to top during baking. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes.

To serve, scoop onto a plate and serve with your choice of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


Recipe adapted from Paula Deen


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Grilled Peaches with Mascarpone

Continueing my week long series on Peaches, I bring to you this amazingly simple recipe.  There’s honey, butter and peaches.  What could be wrong with that?!  I made these for my family and my dad especially loved them.  I think he ate half the tray but who’s counting, right?  Grilling the peaches actually carmelizes the sugar in the honey giving them a sweet smoky flavor unlike anything I’ve ever tasted.  These would be a perfect dessert on a warm day when you already have the grill out.  Quick, easy and delicious.


8 ounces Mascarpone cheese
6 medium peaches, halved and pitted
2 tbsp butter
4 tbsp honey, divided
1 tbsp rosemary, minced plus one whole sprig


Bring Mascarpone cheese to room temperature. Heat grill to medium high heat.

In a small saucepan, melt butter and 2 tablespoons honey and cook on low heat for 1 minute while constantly stirring.  Add rosemary sprig and simmer on medium heat for another minute.  Remove from heat and remove rosemary sprig.  Using a pastry brush, baste cut side of peaches with honey.  If you don’t have a brush you can simply dip the cut side of the peaches into the honey butter mixture.   Add peaches to grill cut side down and cook for 4-5 minutes.  Turn peaches and baste again with honey butter mixture and cook for 3-4 more minutes.

Remove peaches from grill and plate on individual plates or platter. Add one tablespoon Mascarpone per peach half, drizzle with remaining honey butter and plain honey and garnish with minced rosemary.


Recipe adapted from Go Bold With Butter


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Peach Bellini Cupcakes

This is the first post in my week long series of “All Peach Everything” and I am so excited to get started.  One gem that I learned in class is that when fruits are at their ripest and in large supply the market responds by lowering the price (see I was paying attention like a good student!).  So this is a great time to visit your local farmer’s market and stock up on your favorite seasonal fruits and veggies.  I was amazed to find peaches on sale in the grocery store for only $1.00 per pound.  I’m talking about large ripe peaches and not the old soft squishy ones.  I took that as a sign that I was on the right path, so peaches it is.

I know this may sound weird but I don’t like most normal fruits.  I hate the smell of bananas, can’t chew the skin on grapes, don’t like the texture of apples and the strings in oranges get caught in my teeth.  There I’ve said it, don’t judge me.  Even weirder is the fact that I can drink apple, orange and grape juice but raw fruit is not really my thing.  However, I do love almost any other fruit like strawberries, pears, kiwis, plums and especially peaches.

Cupcakes are one of my favorite things to make.  I feel like that girl in the movie Bridesmaids…you know the scene where she stays up late making just one cupcake only to look at it’s beauty for all of five seconds then stuff it in her mouth.  Okay, I’m not that bad but there’s something about eating a cute little cake with just the right amount of icing that makes it taste that much better.  I swear I’m going to start posting more cakes but I had to share this recipe with y’all first.  There’s little peach bits baked in the actual cake plus there’s champagne and Peach Schnapps!  This yummy recipe had me at hello.


Peach Bellini Cupcakes

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 egg whites
3 cups all purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup pink champagne (regular champagne can be substituted)
1/4 cup peach schnapps
1 small peach, peeled and diced

Peachy Champagne Frosting

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup pink champagne (regular champagne can be substituted)
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon peach schnapps
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-3 drops red & yellow food coloring

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium sized bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt.  In a mixing bowl beat together butter and sugar on medium speed for 3-5 minutes until light and fluffy.  I use the 4th speed setting on my Kitchen Aid mixer.  Add vanilla, then beat in egg whites one at a time.


In a small bowl combine the peach schnapps and champagne.   Blend in flour mixture and champagne/schnapps mixture  in three alternating additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Gently stir in the diced peaches.  Pour batter into cupcake liners, filling 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.


To make the frosting beat together the butter and vanilla.  Add powdered sugar in one cup increments, then add champagne, milk, peach schnapps and food coloring.  Frost cupcakes once they have completely cooled.  Garnish with yellow or orange sprinkles for decoration.

Makes 2 dozen cupcakes.


Recipe adapted from Sing For Your Supper


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Mixed greens, strawberry & goat cheese salad

This is hands down one of the best salads I’ve tasted. Sweet and refreshing, just in time for Spring!




  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 small red onion, grated
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh mixed greens, washed and torn into pieces
  • 1 can hearts of palm, drained and chopped
  • 2 cups strawberries, stemmed and sliced
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 6 ounces goat cheese, cold



  1. For the dressing, combine the vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a small non-reactive saucepan and heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Make sure not to let the dressing boil.
  2. Remove pan from heat and let cool to room temperature. When cooled, whisk in the oil, onion, poppy seeds, dry mustard and paprika until thoroughly combined. Set dressing aside.
  3. In a salad bowl, combine the mixed greens, hearts of palm, strawberries, walnuts and goat cheese. When ready to serve, add some of the dressing, and toss gently. Serve the remaining dressing alongside the salad so diners may add more, if desired.


Source: inspriration from Paula Deen (

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Mixed Fruit with Honey

I can’t believe how hot it’s been here in Chicago!  Right now as I type it’s 93 degrees and rising…something is not right with the world.  But I plan to make the best of the heat and am going to go swimming (I’ve been watching a lot of Olympic swim races and it has awakened my desire to do a cannon ball).  In addition to training for the next Olympics I’m making this yummy fruit salad.  Sometimes all you want is something light, sweet and fresh and this definitely delivers.  It’s easy and doesn’t require you to heat up your kitchen by turning on your oven.

A great tip I learned for peeling kiwi is to cut it in half, using a spoon scoop the kiwi out by sliding the spoon in a circular motion along the edges.  You can make a big bowl of this and serve it at a party, use it as yogurt topping or just eat it throughout the week.



12 strawberries

2 bananas

1 cup blackberries

3 kiwi

1 tbsp honey


Rinse fruit and slice into bite size pieces in medium bowl.  Add honey and toss to coat evenly.  Serve and enjoy!


*An NCJ Original*

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Raspberry Lemonade

Looking for something to quench your thirst this Memorial Day weekend…well look no further!



  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4-5 lemons)
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1 container (10 ounces) frozen raspberries in syrup, thawed
  • 3/4 cup water



Mix sugar and 1/2 cup water in 1-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring once, until sugar is dissolved. Cool to room temperature.  Mix cooled sugar syrup, the lemon juice and 3 1/2 cups water in 2-quart nonmetal pitcher. Place raspberries in strainer over small bowl to drain (do not press berries through strainer). Reserve berries for making ice cubes. Stir raspberry liquid into lemon mixture; refrigerate.  Spoon raspberries evenly into 12 sections of ice-cube tray. Divide 3/4 cup water evenly among sections with raspberries.  Freeze about 2 hours or until firm.  Serve lemonade over ice cubes.




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