Sunday, March 22, 2009

Banoffee Pie

The first thing I wanted to do with these incredibly perfect bananas was to try a new dessert. There must be a zillion dessert recipes that you can make with bananas, but a couple of months ago a recipe for Banoffee Pie caught my attention. I had never heard of it before, so had to google it to get some background.

(from Wikipedia)
Banoffee pie (also spelled banoffi, or banoffy) is an English dessert made from bananas, cream and boiled condensed milk (or dulce de leche), either on a pastry base or one made from crumbled biscuits and butter. Its name is a portmanteau constructed from the words "banana" and "toffee".

Credit for the pie's invention is popularly claimed by Ian Dowding and Nigel Mackenzie of The Hungry Monk restaurant in Jevington, East Sussex. They claim to have invented the pie in 1972, and the restaurant's exterior bears a blue plaque to that effect. The dish, with various stories of its source, spread, and in 1994 a number of supermarkets began selling it as an American pie, leading Dowding and Mackenzie to offer a £10,000 prize to anyone who could disprove their claim.[1]

The recipe was originally revealed in 'The Deeper Secrets of the Hungry Monk' in 1974 (now out of print). The recipe was reprinted in the Hungry Monk's later cookbook 'In Heaven with the Hungry Monk' (1997). Ian Dowding has since put his original recipe online because he is "pedantic about the correct version", and stated that his "pet hates are biscuit crumb bases and that horrible cream in aerosols".

My version is not exactly like the original version because I have used a crumb crust instead of a pastry crust.

Banoffee Pie


1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1 prepared pie crust
1.5 to 2 pounds of bananas
3/4 pint of heavy cream
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp instant coffee


1. Make the toffee by boiling the unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in water to cover the can. (the best instructions I have found for doing this are copied below from the Ian Dowding website).

2. Whip the cream with 1 tsp. of sugar and 1/2 tsp. instant coffee.

3. Spread "toffee-ized" can of sweetened condensed milk over the base of the pie.

4. Cut bananas in half lengthwise and place over the toffee layer.

5. Spread whipped cream over the banana layer and sprinkle with coffee granules and sugar.

6. Refrigerate until ready to enjoy with a cup of herbal tea.

From the Ian Dowding website About Boiling the Cans of Milk:
Over the years I have become increasingly concerned about the danger of boiling cans of condensed milk. There is no danger of them exploding unless the water in the saucepan boils dry. If this does happen the result is terrifying and can scald anyone close to it. It has happened to me once and that was enough. Because I now teach and demonstrate a lot I like to make sure my instructions are safe so I have devised this method.

Find a deep saucepan or casserole that will go in the oven.
Put into it as many tins as will fit. (THE TINS MUST BE UNOPENED). It worth doing several at a time to save on power.
Cover the tins with water and bring to the boil.
Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven set to gas mark 1 / 140 C (less for fan assisted).
Cook for 3 ½ hours.
This way there is no danger of the water boiling dry and being in a more controlled temperature you get a more consistent result.
Lift the cans from the water, cool and store.
An unusual bonus comes from storing these tins over a period. After some months sugar crystals begin to form in the toffee and you get crunchy banoffi - mmmmm.



Saturday, March 21, 2009

Banana Season

It seems like just yesterday that we harvested our first racim of bananas from the palm tree in our back yard, and here already is the second. We cut the racim just as the first of the bottom bananas were ripening, and hung it in our dining area. Before I knew it, I was hearing the "thump, thump, thump" of ripe bananas hitting the floor and I was not even barely prepared to use them up. We gave away the first few dozens as the penkos ripened, and by then, I had given the whole banana thing some thought and was ready to start cooking.

Meanwhile, growing my own bananas has brought questions to mind. For example, how many bananas are there in a penko? (A penko is what the local people call one group of bananas on the stem). How many penkos are there on a stem? Does that type of banana always have that same number of penkos and bananas?

This stem had 9 penkos (you can note from this photo that the 9th penko of bananas was stunted and green ... they never did develop) and exactly 17 bananas in EVERY penko. I asked around, but nobody could tell me if this type of banana palm would aways produce stems of 9 penkos with 17 bananas in each. There was a general consensus that other types of bananas (like manzanitas or majunches) would have a different number of both penkos and bananas per penko ... I will now be paying a lot of attention when I have the opportunity to observe a cut banana stem.


Chicken & Red Pepper Fettucini

I've always loved a good fettucini with white clam sauce, but I've never been able to find clams here in Peten, so decided the other day to make a similar dish with chicken and sweet red peppers.

Chicken and Red Pepper Fettucini


2 tbs. butter
1 large garlic clove ; minced
1 tsp. salt
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 pint cream
2 chicken breasts
1 8oz. pkg. fettucini
1 sweet red bell pepper ; chopped
1 small onion ; chopped


Cook noodles as directed on package.
Heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet and add the chopped onions and sweet pepper. Saute until vegies are wilting.

Slice chicken into small strips, and add to pan. Continue to saute until chicken is cooked through. Set aside.

For sauce, melt butter, add garlic clove, then add cream and parmesan. Blend well and cook till thickened.

Add chicken mixture to sauce.

Mix fettucini well with the chicken sauce mixture, top with a few chopped leaves of cilantro, and serve:


Superb!! We both completely cleaned our plates.

Fettucine Alfredo on Foodista


Multi-Grain Cereal with Yogurt and Jungle Honey

One of the foods that I have missed a lot since living here in the jungle is a good whole grain cereal to eat for breakfast. Since the closest thing I can find in the local stores is oatmeal or cream of wheat, I decided long ago that the only way to solve this lack was to figure out how to make it myself.

I began a few years ago looking and asking about the grains and seeds that are available in the market.

Over the years I tried various blends and ways of cooking, but it wasn't until recently, when I bought a Crock Pot, that I finally hit on a blend of grains and seeds and a procedure that would produce an excellent Multi-Grain Cereal.

Multi-Grain Cereal with Yogurt and Jungle Honey


Wheat Berries
Brown Rice
Flax Seeds
Corn Meal
Sesame Seeds
Almond slices

N.B. Start this at night to have cereal ready for breakfast in the morning.

1. Put a handful of wheat berries and a handful of barley in a grinder / blender of some sort and blend for a couple of minutes. It is not necessary to grind them up completely ... I do it mostly to crack the hard grains up a bit so they cook easier.

2. Pour cracked grains into a 2 cup measure and start adding handfuls of the other grains one by one, finishing off with a good spoonful of cinnamon. I also happened to have this big bag of Nopal and Linaza that a volunteer left here recently, so I've been throwing in a couple of big spoonfuls of that for additional health and flavor benefits.

3. Pour the 2-cup measure of grains into a Crockpot. Add 4 cups of boiling water and stir.

4. DO NOT turn on the crockpot. Put the cover on and leave it soaking for the night. I leave the almonds and the raisins close by to have them handy in the morning.

5. At 4 a.m.(or 3 hours before you want to eat the cereal), add a handful or two of the almond slices and the raisins along with 2 more cups of boiling water. Turn Crock Pot to high and leave for 3 hours.

6. Spoon into bowl and top with a generous dollop of home made yogurt and a strong drizzle of raw jungle honey.


I have made it several times now and usually eat it several mornings per week for breakfast. I love it. I find it has a satisfying chewy whole-grainy kind of texture ... a bit of crunch from the almonds and seeds with a nice burst of sweet with the raisins. With a topping of creamy home made yogurt and hearty jungle honey, you can't find a more healthy breakfast.


New Kitchen Toys 2

I have wanted one of these Immersion Blenders for ages. It looks so much easier to use than a blender, especially since you can take the blender to the food, rather than putting the food in the blender. I finally found the excuse to buy an Immersion Blender when I began learning soap making and discovered that this type of appliance is highly recommended for the small sized batches that I am working with. The biggest advantage is that you can do the blending in the main mixing bowl and you don't need to pour everything, batch by batch, into a normal blender. Finding an Immersion Blender here in the jungle, even with our new Walmart, was a bit of a challenge.

There were not a lot of different makes or models in Santa Elena to choose from ... as a matter of fact, we went to store after store asking for one ... miming the use of it for each salesman who gave us a totally blank look when we asked for an "immersion blender". I finally lucked out at the last possible store. After going through our usual mimed routine, the salesman's face lit up and he ran to find us the only one they had in stock! Fortunately, it is just what I need ... it is perfect!

This model comes with the handheld motor/blender that snaps easily and quickly onto its immersible blending unit or a small chopper. The blender stick blends well, as well as super fast and easy ... and the chopper is excellent for lots of small chopping and blending needs. The unit also includes a pitcher for blending liquids (definitely better than my blender for whipping up my fruit liquados). All the parts are easily cleaned and maintained. You will be seeing it appear in lots of upcoming recipes.

Blender on Foodista


New Kitchen Toys 1

I remember that I used to own a crock pot many many years ago when they were in vogue. I can't remember that I used it very often, probably because cooking in a crock pot requires foresight and planning, and I've always been a "last minute" kinda cook. I also don't remember being too impressed with what I did cook in it.

So why would I go out and invest in a new Crock Pot now??

Well, mostly because of Flylady (Google her if you don't know her) and menu planning. My goal is to simplify and de-stress (i.e. bring peace) to as many parts of my life as is possible, and menu planning is a big part of that. A crock pot, properly used, can be a huge asset to stress-free dinners. My goal is to learn how to use this new tool in a way that will simplify my day while providing delicious and nutritious meals. I don't have to use it every day, but I figure that if I have 8 or 10 great crock pot recipes (is that stretching it?), then I can add them once or twice to our weekly menu plan over the month. Over the next few months I will be experimenting with my Crock Pot and developing the best recipes for this medium and our lifestyle.

I bought a large crock pot, and I discovered later that bigger isn't always better when it comes to Crock Pots. Since they cook better if 3/4 full, and there are usually only 2 of us, it will make way too much. I will plan it for meals that I want to cook at least double (eat one freeze one), if not triple.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Honey of the Doncella Bee

This almost colorless honey is from the Doncella Bees (as the local people call them) ... a type of jungle stingless honey bee that produces this light, lemony sweet honey that is prized amongst the jungle people as an antibiotic as well as a lung curative, a cure for eye problems and a general overall tonic.

Native meliponines have been kept by the lowland Maya for thousands of years. The traditional Mayan name for this bee is Xunan kab, literally meaning "royal lady". The bees were once the subject of religious ceremonies and were a symbol of the bee-god Ah-Muzen-Cab, who is known from the Madrid Codex.

The bees were, and still are, treated as pets. Families would have one or many log-hives hanging in and around their house.

This hive is one of four hanging from the eves of one of my neighbors.

Although they are stingless, the bees do bite and can leave welts similar to a mosquito bite.

The outlook for meliponines in Mesoamerica is grim. The number of active Melipona beekeepers is rapidly declining in favor of the more economical, non-indigenous Africanized Apis mellifera. The high honey yield, 100 kilograms or more annually, along with the ease of hive care and ability to create new hives from existing stock, commonly outweighs the negative consequences of "killer bee" hive maintenance. Furthermore, there are flora that the Africanized honey bees do not visit, such as those in the tomato family, and several forest trees and shrubs, which rely on the native stingless bees for pollination. There has already been a decline in populations of native flora in areas where stingless bees have been displaced by Africanized honey bees. An additional blow to the art of meliponine beekeeping is that many of the meliponine beekeepers are now elderly men and women, whose hives may not be cared for once they die. The hives are considered similar to an old family collection, to be parted out once the collector dies or to be buried in whole or part along with the beekeeper upon death. In fact, a survey of a once-popular area of the Mayan lowlands shows the rapid decline of beekeepers, down to around 70 in 2004 from thousands in the late 1980s. It is traditional in the Mayan lowlands that the hive itself or parts of the hive be buried along with the beekeeper to volar al cielo, "to fly to heaven"[citation needed]. There are conservation efforts underway in several parts of Mesoamerica.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Jungle Honey

One of the great food advantages of living in the middle of the rainforest is the ready supply of inexpensive raw delicious honey.
I love the fact that this honey comes straight from the hive to a recycled bottle. The color can vary quite substantially depending on the location where it was produced and the type of bee that produced it. The ultimate, of course, is to have a hive in your back yard!


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