Pharm Fresh

The foodie alter-ego of a pharmacy student

Banana Cake with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting November 9, 2009

Filed under: cake,dessert,fruit,sauces etc. — pharmfresh @ 4:02 pm
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I know I’ve professed my love for banana flavored baked goods before, but let me reiterate: I love them!  I think it has to do with the fact that I have so many happy memories of my Nana Dee and her famous banana muffins and banana bread.  Banana bread and banana cake have always been really homey foods to me, and I find them incredibly comforting.  I happened to have some over-ripe bananas attracting fruit flies in my kitchen, so I decided to branch out from the usual banana bread and go for banana cake.

The recipe will make either one 9×13 inch sheet cake or two 8 or 9 inch round cakes.  I like to go with the sheet cake because it’s simpler.  The vanilla bean is completely optional in the frosting, but I think it gives this otherwise very simple, no-frills cake a little bit of fanciness.  Oh, and it tastes good, too.


Banana Cake with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting


Makes: 1 (9×13 inch) sheet cake or 2 (8 or 9 inch) round cakes


Adapted from: my Nana Dee


For the cake:
1/2 c. vegetable shortening
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 bananas, mashed
4 tbsp. milk
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. walnuts, chopped (optional)
1 tsp. cinnamon (optional)


For the frosting:
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese (reduced fat is fine, I wouldn’t use fat-free)
1/2 c. (8 tbsp.) butter, softened
3 c. powdered sugar
1-2 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out

1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2) In a large mixing bowl, cream the shortening and sugar with an electric mixer until combined.  Add the eggs and vanilla, mix until smooth.

3) Mix in the bananas, vanilla and milk.

4) Stir in the flour, baking soda, walnuts and cinnamon (if using), mixing until smooth.

5) Pour into a greased 9×13 inch baking pan or divide into two greased 8 or 9 inch round cake pans.

6) Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake is golden brown.  Cool completely before frosting.

7) For the frosting: In a medium mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until combined.  Add the vanilla, vanilla bean seeds and powdered sugar and mix until smooth and fluffy.  If the frosting is too thick, add enough milk to reach the desired consistency.  Frost cake.


Moist Pumpkin Bread September 15, 2009

Filed under: bread,dessert,fruit,snacks — pharmfresh @ 3:57 pm
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I don’t know about everywhere else in the world, but for the past few weeks here, it has been HOT. Like, mid to high 80’s. I know that sounds really wimpy, but hey, it’s Michigan! And northern Michigan, at that! We had a really mild summer here, so for it to get this warm while I’m already back in school is really weird. I am definitely more of a fall girl. I love the cooling temperatures, the turning leaves, bringing out the sweatshirts and jeans and most especially, fall foods.

We’ve made this bread every single year around Thanksgiving and Christmas time for years. It’s one of my most favorite fall treats. It’s very easy to make, uses mostly ingredients you probably already have on hand, and it makes the entire house smell fabulously autumnal while baking. You can’t get any better than that!

Feel free to play around with the amount of spices in the recipe.  The original recipe called for only a teaspoon each of cinnamon and cloves, but I found that it wasn’t spicy enough for me.  I like to add a little bit of nutmeg, ginger and allspice as well.  Play around with it a little and if it doesn’t have enough flavor the first time, try putting in more next time!


Moist Pumpkin Bread

Makes: 2 loaves

Source: my mom!

2/3 c. shortening

2 c. granulated sugar

4 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

2 c. pumpkin puree

2/3 c. water

2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

3/4 tsp. salt

2 tsp. cinnamon

3/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground allspice (optional)

3 1/3 c. flour

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease two loaf pans.

2) In a large bowl, cream the shortening and sugar until combined.

3) Add eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.

4) Stir in water and pumpkin puree, then add baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.  Mix until completely combined.

5) Stir in flour, mixing until smooth.

6) Bake for one hour, until a knife inserted in the middle of the loaves comes out clean.


Buttermilk Lemon Bars April 6, 2009

Filed under: cookies/bars,dessert,fruit — pharmfresh @ 7:22 pm
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I love summer.  For someone who has been in school for 17 out of 22 years of her life, summer means freedom.  Waking up late, playing outside, swimming.  This year, summer means the chance to read a real book (not a textbook!), no studying for 3 solid months, and finally, finally, a break.

We only have 4 more weeks of school.  I’m finding it very hard to study when it’s sunny outside.  All I want to do is go outside and play.

These lemon bars, to me, are the epitome of summer.  There’s something about lemons that just brings to mind sunshine and warmth.  And since it’s currently April and STILL SNOWING….well, I needed something summery.


I’m not usually a huge fan of lemon bars.  I’ve only had them a few times before, and they’ve always either seemed overwhelmingly sweet or way too tart.  The buttermilk in these bars seems to balance both quite well.  It mellows out the sharp tartness of the lemons and adds a creaminess that balances the sweetness.   They’re still quite tart, but it’s not the kind biting acidity that lemon flavored foods can sometimes have.

I would recommend making sure that the bars are very cold before trying to cut them.  The filling is very smooth and custardy, which makes them pretty messy to cut unless they’ve had time to solidify in the fridge or freezer.  Since lemon is the main (and really only) flavor in this dessert, I strongly recommend using freshly squeezed lemon juice.  I’ve found that bottled lemon juice tends to have much more of that acidic bite, and usually has a very unappetizing aftertaste.  The recipe only calls for 1/2 cup of juice, which is very easy to squeeze by hand, and it really makes all the difference.


Buttermilk Lemon Bars

Adapted from: Baking Bites

Makes: about 16 (2 inch x 2 inch) bars


1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1/3 c. granulated sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. lemon zest

1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, room temperature


4 eggs

1 1/3 c. granulated sugar

1/2 c. buttermilk

1/2 c. lemon juice, freshly squeezed (about 4 large lemons)

1 tbsp. lemon zest

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8×8 (0r 9×9) inch square pan.

2) In a medium bowl, combine all the crust ingredients except the butter.  Mix well.

3) Using two knives, a pastry blender or (my favorite) your hands, mix in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Press the crust mixture evenly onto the bottom of the greased pan.

4)  Bake for 16-19 minutes until just lightly browned.

5) While the crust is baking, whisk together all of the filling ingredients in another bowl.

6) Pour the filling mixture onto the crust while it is still hot and bake for another 20 minutes.  The filling should not jiggle when gently shaken.

7) Cool completely, then cut into bars.  Dust with powdered sugar to serve.


Chocolate Banana Bread March 1, 2009

Filed under: bread,chocolate,fruit — pharmfresh @ 7:55 pm
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I am a sucker for a good banana bread.  Take me to a bake sale, and if there’s a loaf sitting there looking moist and pretty, I’ll buy it.  I am also a HUGE chocoholic.  So much so that I have a chocolate stash in the top drawer of my nightstand (but shhhh!  It’s a secret!).  I love putting chocolate chips in my banana bread (if you haven’t ever tried that, give it a shot…it brings banana bread to a whole new level!), so when I saw a recipe on Joy the Baker’s blog for a chocolate banana bread with chocolate chips, I thought to myself, “this is genius!  Why didn’t I think of this before?!”  Luck was on my side, as I had all of the ingredients already in the house, including two very ripe bananas just begging to be used.

(Also, if you have never seen Joy the Baker’s blog, make sure to check it out!  She does amazing things in the kitchen, and her pictures are always gorgeous.)

The bread turned out fantastically, and will definitely be added to my ever-growing list of things to DEFINITELY make again.  I adapted the recipe just a bit — I added a teaspoon of vanilla extract and upped the amount of chocolate chips (I just couldn’t resist!).  As you can see from the picture, it has a very crumbly texture which makes it very difficult to cut nice slices, but the taste is so amazing that I don’t really even care. But even though the texture is crumbly, it still is extremely moist. You get a nice jolt of chocolate, followed by a mellow banana aftertaste.  It’s perfect plain, or if you want to get fancy,  slathered with a bit of salted butter.


Chocolate Banana Bread

Source: Joy the Baker

Makes: 1 loaf

1 stick (8 tbsp.) butter, at room temperature

3/4 c. granulated sugar

1/2 c. brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 very ripe bananas, mashed

2 c. all-purpose flour

1 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

3/4 c. buttermilk

1 c. mini chocolate chips


1) In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda and baking powder.  Set aside.  (Note: If you’re wondering why my cocoa powder is two different colors, I ran out of regular unsweetened cocoa powder and had to use 1/4 c. dark cocoa powder)


2) Place the butter and sugars in a large bowl.  Using an electric mixer, beat until well-mixed.


3) Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth and fluffy.  Then beat in mashed bananas.

img_3326 img_3327

4) Mix in the dry ingredients and the buttermilk.  I did it in 3 installments – about 1/3 of the dry ingredients and 1/3 of the buttermilk each time.


5) Fold in the chocolate chips.


6)  Spread batter into a greased loaf pan.  Because of the long baking time, Joy suggested placing the loaf pan on top of an insulated cookie sheet, or two cookie sheets stacked on top of each other to keep the bottom of the bread from browning too much.  This worked perfectly for me!

7) Bake at 350 degrees for 70-75 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.  If the top of the bread is getting too browned, place some foil over the top after it’s been in the oven for about 30 minutes, and then remove the foil for the last 10-15 minutes of baking time.


Cheesecake Filled Chocolate Covered Strawberries December 31, 2008

Happy New Year, everyone!  My 2008 was filled with endings and new beginnings, with a lot of fun inbetween.  I’m really looking forward to the new year and all the new adventures it will bring.

I normally don’t do much for New Year’s eve.  My boyfriend and I usually just hang out at his house with a bottle of wine or some fuzzy navels and watch the ball drop on TV.  This year, Matt’s brother Mike and his fiance Stephanie are having a New Year’s coctail party at their apartment in Grand Rapids.  Grand Rapids is also doing their own ball drop this year, which I hear is supposed to be awesome, so we’re meeting at Mike and Stephanie’s apartment (which is nicely located right in the middle of downtown) for a few drinks and snacks, and then we’re all going out to Rosa Park’s Circle to watch the ball drop.  I’m really excited!


Since Mike and Stephanie are letting Matt and I stay the night so we don’t have to drive back to Lansing late at night with all the crazy drunks on the road, I volunteered to bring some small desserts to the party.  I saw this recipe quite a while ago, and have been dying to make it ever since.  I love chocolate covered strawberries, and the addition of cheesecake filling to their hollowed-out centers makes them about a million times better.  This is such a simple, easy and impressive dessert – I will definitely be making it again!

I found that using a wine glass to hold the melted chocolate in worked the best – it was narrow enough for there to be a deep pool of chocolate, so all you need to do is dip the strawberries straight down into the glass.  If you use a shallow bowl to hold the chocolate, you’ll end up needing to roll the strawberries in the chocolate instead of dipping them, and it’s really hard to do when you don’t have the leaves on top to hold on to.  Also, make sure to keep these refrigerated until you’re ready to serve them, so that the cheesecake filling doesn’t go bad, and the chocolate stays nice and firm.  If you don’t have any piping bags handy, you can use a regular ziplock bag.  Fill the bag with the cheesecake filling, and then cut a small hole in one of the corners of the bag.  If you’re going to use a ziplock bag though, make sure that the cheesecake filling is at room temperature before you start piping.  When chilled, the filling is very thick, and my ziplock bag burst from the pressure before I had even finished filling my first strawberry!


Cheesecake Filled Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Source: Tami’s Kitchen Table Talk

Makes: about 40

2 pints strawberries

1 container Philadelphia Pre-Made Cheesecake Filling

1 package chocolate flavored candy coating

1 package vanilla flavored candy coating

1) Wash and pat dry strawberries.

2) Pull the leaves off the top of each strawberry, then using a small paring knife carefully cut out the core of each berry.

3) Once the cheesecake filling has reached room temeperature, place in a piping bag or ziplock bag.  Fill each strawberry with the cheesecake filling, making sure that the filling sticks out a little bit.

4) Melt the chocolate flavored candy coating in a microwave safe bowl.  Transfer melted chocolate to a wine glass, and dip half of the strawberries.  Once dipped, place the strawberries on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.

5) Repeat step 4 with the vanilla flavored candy coating and the remaining strawberries.

6) If desired, transfer the leftover melted chocolate into two piping or ziplock bags, cut a very small hole at the tip of each bag, and add a decorative drizzle to each berry.


Sweet Carrot Salad September 13, 2008

Filed under: fruit,side dish — pharmfresh @ 8:17 pm
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I’ve officially finished my first two weeks of pharmacy school.  This semester is going to involve a ridiculous amount of work, but so far the classes have been really interesting.  Biochemistry is definitely going to be the bane of my existence.  I really like the biology-related parts of pharmacy, but I’ve always disliked chemistry, and apparently pharmacy school chemistry is no exception to the rule.

Now that I’ve gotten into the swing of things living by myself (and I absolutely love it!), I’m working on trying to include a few more fruits and vegetables into my diet.  I’m usually pretty good with fruits — there are very few that I don’t like.  Vegetables are a different story.  I’m a pretty picky eater, and there are a lot of vegetables I don’t like.  Then some I only like raw, and some I only like cooked.  So I’m working on trying to find new uses for the ones that I don’t like as much, to try and see if I can make myself like them.

This is a salad that my dad will make every once in a while, and I really like it.  I’ve made a few changes to it — I used vanilla yogurt instead of plain, and added apples and cinnamon.  It’s delicious.  Crunchy, chewy, sweet and refreshing.  The carrots offset the sugary sweetness of the yogurt and fruit, and the marshmallows add a chewy bite that goes really well with the crunch of the apples and carrot.  This salad is even better once it’s been allowed to sit for a while.  The flavors will meld, the marshmallows will get a little soggy (which I like, but if you don’t you can just add the marshmallows to your individual portion), and the raisins will absorb some of the moisture from the yogurt and get plumper.

This salad is really versatile — you can add or subtract anything you want.  The possibilities are endless!  You might want to try adding crushed pineapple, peanuts, pear, or a different flavor of yogurt.

Sweet Carrot Salad

1 (10 oz.) bag matchstick carrots (about 4 cups)

1 c. raisins

1 apple, roughly chopped

1 c. mini marshmallows

Around 2 1/4 c. vanilla yogurt (I used three containers of Yoplait, so the cup measurements are approximate)

1 tsp. cinnamon

1) Combine the carrots, raisins, apple and marshmallows in a large bowl.

2) Stir in the yogurt and cinnamon, mix well.

3) Cover and refrigerate.


Key Lime Tartlets August 1, 2008

Filed under: dessert,fruit,pies/tarts — pharmfresh @ 6:45 pm
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Today has been a pretty productive day.  We’re having a big family cookout at our house tomorrow, which means that I got put in charge of making the desserts for the day.  I made four different desserts, which should all be making appearances here, as long as I can get pictures of them before my hungry family demolishes them.

I am also super excited because the fourth and final book of the Twilight series comes out at midnight!  If you’ve never heard of them, don’t worry — they’re technically marketed as “young adult” books, and most of their fans tend to be high school girls, but they have a lot of appeal for people in older age groups as well.  Sort of like Harry Potter, I suppose.  Needless to say, I’ll only be slightly embarrassed to be in line with the hundreds of screaming high school girls at midnight, waiting to buy my reserved copy of the book.  But really, on the inside I’ll be screaming just as loudly as they are, haha.  They really are fantastic books.

Anyways, back to the food!  These tarts are pretty tasty, and best of all, they’re relatively easy to make.  The curd is extremely easy.  It came out smooth and tangy, with just the right amount of sweetness to balance it out.  The crust is a very flaky shortbread, which at first gave me fits when I was trying to gently get them out of the muffin pans.  The trick is to not make them too thin — once I used a little bit more dough and thickened up the bottoms they held up just fine.  Be warned though, both the curd and the unbaked dough do need to chill for a while, so make sure you give yourself a good 2 to 3 hours to complete everything.

Key Lime Tartlets

Source: Diana’s Desserts

Makes: about 30 tartlets

Key Lime Curd

4 eggs

2/3 c. fresh key lime juice (or regular lime juice)

3/4 c. granulated sugar

6 tbsp. butter

2 tsp. finely grated lime zest

Shortbread Crust

2 c. flour

1 1/2 tbsp. granulated sugar

3/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. baking powder

1 c. cold butter, cut into small pieces

1/4 c. vegetable shortening

6 tbsp. cold water

1) For the key lime curd, whisk together first 4 ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly for 12 minutes, or until thickened.  Take saucepan off the heat and stir in the lemon zest

2) Pour carefully through a wire mesh strainer and into a bowl.  Cover and refrigerate 2 hours.

3) Pulse flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a food processor until combined.  Add butter and shortening and pulse until mixture is crumbly.

4) Add cold water, one tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition.

5) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.

6) After dough has chilled, separate into 25-30 pieces.  Press each piece onto the bottom and up the sides of a muffin pan, making sure not the spread the dough too thin.

7) Prick each shell with a fork and bake at 375 degrees for 17 minutes.

8) After shells have cooled, fill with roughly 2 tablespoons curd.  Garnish with a dusting of powdered sugar and a slice of lime.