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A banana split reimagined as a holiday cookie by Alison Ladman

Taking inspiration from the tradi- tional banana split, we created a cookie combining all the flavor ele- ments into a rich cheesecake bar. We started with a base of brownie and topped it with a creamy banana cheesecake layer. To finish it off, we layered fresh cut strawberries and a thin layer of pineapple jam. If you'd like, you can add a sprinkle of toasted chopped nuts to garnish. Be sure to use very ripe bananas in the cheese- cake layer for the best flavor.

Banana Split Cheesecake Bars Start to finish: 3 1/2 hours (1/2

hour active)

Makes 24 bars For the brownie crust:

12 ounces semisweet chocolate bits 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted but-

ter 2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 4 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the cheesecake layer: Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature

3 ripe bananas 1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour Pinch of salt 3 eggs

For the topping: 1 quart strawberries, hulled and sliced

1/4 cup pineapple jam 1 tablespoon water

Heat the oven to 350 F. Coat a 9- by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the chocolate bits and butter on high for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every 20 sec- onds, or until melted. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour and salt. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Stir in the chocolate-butter mixture. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven. If there are any bubbles in the crust, gently push them flat. Leave the oven on. To make the cheesecake layer, in a food processor, combine the cream cheese, bananas, sugar, flour and salt. Process until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, process-

ing and scraping the bowl between additions. Pour the batter over the brownie crust and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the center no longer jiggles. Cool, then refrigerate until completely chilled.

When the cheesecake is complete- ly chilled, arrange the sliced straw-

Chef D’s Kitchen by David Blackmon

Holiday spices must haves

With Thanksgiving behind us, we have now begun the holiday season so that means baking. If you study holiday recipes you’ll notice they tend to call for spices - in particular: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and ginger - spices no cupboard should be without. Nothing smells of Christmas then this.

Pre-ground spices are convenient, but the problem is the flavor fades fast. You should label them with the purchase date and then store them in a cool, dry place and try hard to use them within a year (and that could

mean a LOT of baking). Otherwise, you should buy whole spices and grind them ourselves. I use a small inexpensive, electric coffee grinder just for spices and not coffee for this. Now let’s look at these 5 indispen- sible holiday spices, one by one and their uses.

Cinnamon: It’s the American classic. I love cinnamon and use it freely in favorites like apple crisp, sticky buns, sweet potato pie, and so on. I usually add it to my green smoothie each morning because of its heart-health benefits. And who

doesn’t steam a pot of cinnamon water on the stove now and then to freshen up a stinky kitchen? Most cinnamon sold in the U.S. is cassia, not true Ceylon cinnamon. Both are the dried bark of tropical evergreen trees, but the bolder, spicier cassia is cheaper to process. You can get Ceylon cinnamon via mail-order from Penzey’s (from Nutmeg: It’s considered the eggnog essential. It’s heady and powerful and is a hard, brown seed that comes from a tropical tree. It’s often used in dairy-based savory dishes. I always add a dash to my spinach souffle - the flavor is incred- ible. It’s used in all sorts of cakes. I compared fresh with pre-ground and found that in dishes where nutmeg was the sole spice, grinding it our- selves would be the best thing to do. However, in a recipe with several spices, pre-ground nutmeg would be fine.

Allspice: It tastes like a combina-

berries over the top. In a small microwave-safe bowl, mix the pineapple jam and the 1 tablespoon of water. Microwave until bubbling. Spoon the jam over the strawberries. Allow to chill for 15 minutes for the jam to set up. Cut into squares. Store, well wrapped, in the refrigerator.

tion of cinnamon, cloves, and nut- meg, hence its name. Ground allspice is used in sweets such as mincemeat pie and gingerbread. It's the hallmark of Caribbean cooking and jerk sea- soning. I like to add ground allspice to melted butter and then add the spiced butter to dough or batter. My opinion is this technique brings out the flavor of the spice. Cloves: These are the pungent, peppery dried, unopened buds of an Indonesian tree. They look a little like nails - in fact, the word "clove" comes from the Latin word for nail, clavus. Ground cloves are potent, so most chefs use them sparingly in baked goods. Whole closes are a nice addition to the poaching liquid for fruit, and on the savory side, they are terrific when studded into a baking ham. I like to add lots to my cinna- mon water that I steam on the top of my stove. Ginger: Ground ginger is just the ginger root ground up. The fresh root cannot be substituted for dried,

Nutrition information per cookie (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 270 calo- ries; 160 calories from fat (57 percent of total calories); 18 g fat (11 g satu- rated; 0 g trans fats); 100 mg choles- terol; 26g carbohydrate; 4 g protein; 2 g fiber; 120 mg sodium. AP

ground ginger. They taste different (fresh is more floral, dry is spicier), work differently in baking (fresh is moister), plus fresh is less potent. Ground ginger is sometimes rein- forced with fresh grated when mak- ing gingerbread, however. Now here’s an idea: Go through your cupboards this coming week and check your spices for expiration dates and toss all the old ones. It’ll be fun and a good thing to do, to stock up on fresh whole spices. Then, if you don't already have one, get your- self an inexpensive coffee grinder (Toastmaster, Braun, Breville, etc.) so you can grind your own spices for this year’s holiday baking. Freshly ground really does make a difference and your friends and family will appreciate the extra effort you've done too.

David Blackmon is the chef/owner of The Culinary Solution (Private Event Chefs for Hire). Questions? Or Comments. Email him:

Chicago Defender • • November 30-December 6, 2011 25

AP/Matthew Mead

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