Thursday, March 20, 2014

Flaming Bananas

When we were growing up, my parents threw a lot of dinner parties.  My dad would spend hours making special mix tapes for the reel-to-reel player, usually with a lot of Al Green on them, and my mom would dress up in these fabulous form-fitting pantsuits*.  Our cupboards were full of artsy plates, hand-crafted ramekins, individual bread boards, mini paella pots, and tons of Marimekko placemats for setting the dining table.  Her speciality, though, was making the meal itself an event.

Her secret weapon?

The electric frying pan**.

The guests would be seated in their own polyester finery, and mom would emerge from the kitchen with a tray and the pan.  She'd plug it in, drop in a stick of butter, and the show would begin.

Smiling as she added the brown sugar, bouffant hair not moving an inch, all conversation among the group would grind to a halt.  The smell was intoxicating.

The perfectly sliced bananas tumbled in. Around went the wooden spoon, then she'd pick up the canister of fireplace matches.  Fireplace matches!!!

My sister and I peeked from the kitchen, shivering with repressed excitement, knowing what was coming.

The bottle of rum was opened with a flourish.  The lights dimmed.  Then came the unmistakable sound of a single long match being struck.  All eyes upon her.

Woosh!  The pan erupted in gorgeous blue and orange flames.  Mouths dropped.

She fearlessly stirred on, chatting amiably as though this was nothing special.  Just an ordinary night.

An ordinary night with my magical, marvelous mom.

She died three years ago today, so this will never be an ordinary time for me.
In her honor, dear guests, may I treat you to some flaming bananas?

Bananas Foster Cheesecake

by Sharon Graves
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Based on my tried and true cheesecake recipe, with fresh bananas and rum, extra cinnamon, plus Bananas Foster on top.  Extraordinary!
    For the crust
    • 2 c. graham cracker crumbs
    • 1/4 c. brown sugar
    • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
    • 6 Tbs. butter, melted
    For the cheesecake
    • 2 lbs. (4 8 oz. packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
    • 1 1/4 c. sugar
    • 3/4 c. banana puree (made by blending 2-3 very ripe bananas in a food processor until smooth)
    • 1 whole egg
    • 2 egg yolks
    • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
    • 1 Tbs. dark rum
    • 1 Tbs. heavy cream
    For the Flaming Bananas***
    • 1/4 c. (1/2 stick) butter
    • 1/2 c. brown sugar
    • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
    • pinch of kosher salt
    • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
    • 3 ripe but firm bananas, sliced crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces
    • 3 Tbs. rum
    Combine graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, and cinnamon together in a large bowl. Stir in the melted butter. The mixture should hold loosely together in clumps when you press on it. Press the mixture into the bottom and an inch and a half or so up the sides of a 10 inch springform pan.

    Refrigerate while you make the filling, about 20 minutes. If you're a super fast filling maker, put the crust in the freezer instead.

    Preheat oven to 350.

    Peel 2-3 very ripe bananas, and cut each banana in half. Puree in a food processor or blender for several minutes, until they become liquified and smooth. Remove or process through any chunky bits that remain. Set aside.

    For the filling, using an electric mixer, blend the cream cheese and
     the sugar together until light and fluffy. Blend in the banana puree, egg and egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the extract, rum and the cream, and blend until the mixture is completely smooth. Pour into the prepared crust, then bake for 40 minutes.

    Turn off the oven, open up the oven door and leave in for another 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to serve, at least 3 hours or overnight.

    Just before serving, make the bananas. You'll need a long match or fireplace lighter for this, so have one ready.

    Bananas Foster
    Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat until sizzling, then add the brown sugar and cinnamon. Stir constantly for about 2 minutes, until a smooth caramel forms. Add lemon juice, stir, and cook for another minute. Carefully stir in the bananas, being sure they are coated with the caramel, but trying not to mush them up. Cook for another minute or so, until bananas are warm but still firm.

    Drizzle rum over the top, then carefully light the pan. The rum should flame up temporarily, then go out as the alcohol burns off.

    To serve, slice cheesecake, then spoon a serving of the bananas and rum sauce over the top.

    Bananas Foster Cheesecake

    * It was the seventies, and yes, we did have shag carpeting, too.
    ** I believed in the power of this pan so much that I registered for one when I got married.  I have yet to use it at a dinner party, but it makes me feel great having it in reserve.
    *** Mom always served these over vanilla ice cream.  They are spectacular just like that.


    1. Food that triggers memories that speak in stories. Thanks so much for another touching story and recipe.

    2. What a fabulous story and tribute to your very classy mom. I am jealous! I love Bananas Foster and after almost setting my kitchen on fire making candles, I haven't had the nerve to make them. But thanks to you I have found new courage and I will try this special recipe.

      1. Let me know how it goes. These are much more kitchen ceiling friendly than candles, I assure you.