Quickie-cooked Crappies with a Side and Dessert

We’re having a simple meal of crappie fillets and smashed potatoes, with banana bread for dessert. It contains my favorite three food groups: fish, fat and sugar. The sugar part comes in the fruit.

Quickie Crappies for Two

  • 4-6 crappie fillets
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lemon, sliced into wedges

Season fillets with salt and pepper. Add butter and olive oil to a medium-hot skillet until the butter turns brown and bubbles. Add fish and cook for about 3 minutes on each side until golden brown or flakes with a fork. Serve with lemon wedges.

Cook’s Country magazine generously emailed me a few of their recipes. Here are two, including Smashed Potatoes and Banana Bread, to round out our meal. Cook’s Country is my favorite TV kitchen show and they also have a terrific website. I like the science behind how they perfect their recipes and their efforts to test then present ways to bring out the best in food.

We’ll start with their Smashed Potatoes because it’s a popular comfort food and shows up on the table often. Their Banana Bread is a dessert, so it’s last.

Smashed Potatoes

  • 2 pounds red bliss potatoes, (2 inches in diameter), unpeeled and scrubbed
  • Salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, melted and warm
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese, (4 ounces) at room temperature
  • Ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped, (optional)

White potatoes can be used instead of red bliss, but their skins lack the rosy color of the red bliss. Try to get potatoes of equal size too.

Place potatoes in a large saucepan. Cover with 1 inch of cold water. Add 1 teaspoon salt and bay leaf. Bring to boil over high heat and then reduce heat to medium low. Simmer gently until a paring knife can be inserted into potatoes and slid back out. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, and then drain potatoes.

Return potatoes to pot, discard bay leaf and allow potatoes to stand in pot uncovered until surfaces are dry.

While potatoes dry, whisk melted butter and softened cream cheese in medium bowl until smooth. Add 1/4 cup of reserved cooking water, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, chives and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Smash potatoes enough to break skins. Fold in butter-cream cheese mixture until most of liquid has been absorbed and chunks of potatoes remain. Add more cooking water 1 tablespoon at a time as needed and until potatoes are slightly looser than desired (potatoes will thicken slightly while standing).

Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

TIP: The best time to buy olive oil is just as the new-season product hits the markets in early winter.

Banana Bread

Use only very ripe, heavily speckled (or black) bananas, as they contain more fructose. This is the aforementioned “sugar part,” and the naturally sweet sugars of the fruit). Do not use a thawed banana for the topping; it’ll be too soft to slice.

Cook’s Country recipe calls for a loaf pan that measures 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches, but you can use a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. For the latter, check for doneness five minutes earlier than advised in their recipe.

  • 1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 5 large very ripe bananas (about 2 1/4 pounds), peeled
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, then cooled slightly
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
  • 1 ripe banana for topping
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar

Place oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl.

Place 5 bananas in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents in plastic. Microwave on high power until bananas are soft and have released their liquid, or about 5 minutes.

Transfer bananas to fine-mesh strainer placed over medium bowl. Allow them to drain, stirring occasionally. You should have 1/2 to 3/4 cup of liquid.

Transfer liquid to medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to 1/4 cup. Remove from heat. Stir reduced liquid into the bananas and press with potato masher until fairly smooth. Whisk in butter, eggs, brown sugar and vanilla.

Pour banana mixture into flour mixture and stir until just combined with some streaks of flour remaining.

Gently fold in walnuts (optional).

Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan.

Slice remaining banana diagonally into 1/4-inch-thick slices. “Shingle” banana slices on top of both sides of loaf, leaving a 1 1/2-inch-wide space down center to ensure even dough rise.

Sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over loaf.

Bake until toothpick inserted in the center of loaf comes out clean.

Cool bread left in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove loaf from pan and continue to cool it on the wire rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature.