A different kind of baked potato

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Growing up, the only kind of baked potato my family ate was a russet potato. I saw a lot of recipes for baked sweet potatoes on Pinterest last fall, but never tried any. Last week, I had two that I needed to use, so I decided to try baking them.

When I’ve had sweet potatoes in the past, they’ve involved some sort of sweeter flavor and ginger; while baked potatoes have had sour cream and chives. I decided to find a happy medium, so I stirred a bit of powdered ginger and maple syrup into some sour cream to top these baked potatoes. They were delicious. Next time, I might add either some arugula, chives or chopped green onions for some color. But for a first attempt, I was pleased with my creation. It complemented the steak I had with it.

What do you put on your baked sweet potatoes?

Ingredients
Two medium sweet potatoes
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons crumbled feta

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Scrub the dirt off the outside of each sweet potato. Pat dry. Pierce each potato with a fork five times. Wrap each potato in foil. Once the oven has preheated, set potatoes on the rack and set timer for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, check potatoes for doneness. Mine took another 30 minutes before they were done.

Once potatoes are done, remove them from the oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile combine sour cream, ginger, syrup and salt and stir until just combined.

Using a knife, cut potato just through the skin on the length of the long side. Peel skin and toss. Cut potato halfway through with three lengthwise cuts, then make five cuts crosswise. Spoon two tablespoons of the sour cream mixture and one tablespoon of feta over each potato.

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Banana pancakes to savor for brunch

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I like to take my time getting up on weekends, when my cat lets me, and making a big breakfast before starting my day. I usually go for omelets or silver dollar pancakes, but sometimes I like to try something new.

I had a couple bananas ripening on my counter last week, but wasn’t in the mood to make banana bread. So I transformed them into these banana pancakes from Williams-Sonoma. Of course, just reading the recipe got Jack Johnson’s “banana pancakes” song stuck in my head, so I had to dig it up to play while I got to work in the kitchen. It set the tone for a lazy Sunday.

These were the best banana pancakes I’ve ever made. They were fluffy and — because I chose not to completely mash the fruit — had tiny chunks of banana in them. I used almond milk because I didn’t have regular milk on hand and it worked surprisingly well.

I cut the recipe in half since I was only cooking for myself and it made six pancakes, so I had them for two breakfasts. They were beyond delicious both times.

So get your Sunday started right by heading to the kitchen and making a batch of these pancakes. You’ll be glad you did.

Ingredients
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (use 2 teaspoons if at high altitude)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 small, very ripe banana, peeled
1 cup milk (almond milk can also be used)
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Maple syrup for serving
Sliced bananas for serving

Cut the butter into 3 equal pieces. Put 2 of the butter pieces in a small saucepan and set the remaining piece aside. Set the pan over medium heat and stir with a wooden spoon until melted, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a pot holder, remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool.

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix with a fork until well blended.

Put the banana in a small bowl. Mash with a fork until almost smooth. Add the milk, eggs and vanilla and stir with the fork until well blended. Pour the banana mixture and the melted butter into the flour mixture. Mix gently with a rubber spatula until the batter is just blended. The batter should still be a little bit lumpy.

Put a griddle over medium heat until hot. To test if the griddle is hot enough, flick a drop of water onto it. It is ready if the drop dances quickly and evaporates. Put half of the remaining butter onto the griddle and spread it with a metal spatula. Drop the batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto the griddle, spacing them about 3 inches apart.

Cook until a few holes form on top of each pancake and the underside is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Carefully slide the metal spatula under each pancake and turn it over. Cook until the bottom is golden brown and the top is puffed, 1 to 2 minutes more. Using the spatula, transfer the pancakes to a serving plate.

Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve the pancakes while still hot with maple syrup and sliced bananas. Makes 12 4-inch pancakes.

Start your week with simple, flavorful salmon

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Most weeknights I turn to easy-to-make meals because, by the time I get home, I’m already hungry and don’t want to wait for something more elaborate.

On a recent trip to Raley’s, I picked up a copy of the store’s free “something extra” magazine for fall 2013. It contains a bunch of recipes, one of which was Maple Balsamic Baked Salmon.

While the original recipe used parchment bags, I just made my own. To do so, take a large piece of parchment paper and fold the longer sides toward the middle. Fold the other ends about an inch toward the center, so the flaps are on top. Fold each flap over once more.

I first thought the recipe might be too sweet, but it was just right. I added pieces of fresh basil on top, which nicely complemented the flavor of the fish. The best part is that the whole thing took less than 20 minutes. I’ll definitely be making this again.

Ingredients
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds salmon fillets
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 cloves roasted garlic, minced
Freshly ground sea salt and pepper

Season salmon with salt and pepper to taste. Place skin side down in parchment bag and place on a baking sheet. Stir together vinegar, syrup and garlic and pour over salmon in bag. Fold over to enclose. Bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes. Top with snipped fresh basil.