Master magical marinades

Grilled foods boast inviting flavors that put many diners on the lookout for second helpings. Quite often the magic behind grilled meals lies in the marinade used to give foods that flavorful kick.

Marinades can be used to enhance the flavor of meats, vegetables and poultry. While marinades add flavor, they also may be responsible for some other benefits in grilled foods.

Marinades add flavor

Defined as a savory acidic sauce in which food is soaked to enrich its flavor, marinades help break down fiber and tenderize certain foods. The base of many marinades include vinegar, lemon juice or wine, and marinades can be enhanced with spices, oil and herbs.

It’s important not to let foods sit in marinades for too long, as any alcohol, acid or salt in the mixture can chemically “cook” the food in a process known as “denaturing.” Adhere to timing recommendations when using store-bought marinades, and keep such guidelines in mind when using homemade marinades as well. Many may tell you to let foods sit no longer than four hours. Marinades with citrus juices may require even less time for flavor to penetrate.

The timing of marinade use also will depend on the foods being marinated. Delicate items, such as seafood, may change with regard to texture or color in a matter of minutes.

It’s important to always marinate foods in the refrigerator. Food left sitting out on a counter – even when it’s in a marinade – invites the growth of bacteria. If a recipe calls for marinating at room temperature, continue to marinate in the refrigerator, but extend the length of time you marinate. This helps to prevent foodborne illnesses.

When marinating, use plastic or glass containers so the marinade does not cause a chemical reaction, which may occur if you marinate foods in metal containers. Discard all marinades for raw meats and poultry when the time comes to cook the foods, as leftover marinades may contain bacteria that makes them unsafe to reuse on other foods.

The nutritional benefits of marinating

In addition to flavor, marinades may improve the nutritional value of grilled foods. In 2008, researchers at Kansas State University discovered that marinating meat in antioxidant-rich spice blends can reduce the risk of forming heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, by more than 80 percent. HCAs are harmful, cancer-causing compounds that form when food chars over an open flame at high temperatures. Marinades must be rich in spices to have any HCA-busting properties.

Tips to put refreshing summer flavors on your table

Thinking seasonal is always a recipe for success. The colors of the summer and sweet, tart, cool flavors of fruits of the season can decorate your table in creative, elegant and refreshing ways.

When most of us think of summer fruit, we envision smoothies, salads or pies. Think beyond the dessert course! There are many ways to imbue appetizers, cocktails and main courses with seasonal colors and fruity flavors.

Here are some fresh ways to introduce summer fruits into your summer meals and cocktails.

Appetizers and Mains

There are many easy ways to put summer on your table in finger foods, salads and even meat and poultry dishes.

Light appetizer ideas include fruit and cheese crostini. All you need is creativity and French bread, goat cheese and your favorite summer fruit. You can add strawberries and a balsamic reduction or honey and raspberries. And consider a twist on prosciutto and melon by wrapping fresh peach slices instead. Or toss watermelon into a salad of tomato, mozzarella cheese and basil, topped with olive oil and salt and pepper.

Your favorite main courses can take on different flavor nuances with the season. Consider grilling steak with warm peaches and onions as a topper. Or poach fresh plums and serve with turkey breast or grilled chicken, bringing a tartness to poultry not unlike that from cranberry sauce.

Summer Cocktails

It’s no surprise that summer is when some of the world’s best food and beverage companies introduce new fruit-focused offerings. For instance, Alizé is debuting a new passion flavor to its portfolio: Alizé Peach. It is an infusion of ripe, luscious peaches delicately blended with premium French vodka — just in time to be mixed into light warm-weather cocktails.

Don’t just add fresh fruit as a garnish to summer cocktails; consider using fruit-imbued spirits instead of plain ones. Whether blended into margaritas, shaken in martinis, mixed into sangrias, or drizzled atop sparkling wine, fruit-infused vodkas, such as the new Alizé Peach or Alizé Passion with passion fruit, are well suited for summer entertaining. Alizé Passion comes in different flavors, blended with exotic passion fruit, fresh cherries, cranberries, and even a touch of ginger.

Summer is the perfect time to live in color with fruit-infused cocktails — whether it’s a simple Bellini mixed with prosecco and Alizé Peach or a more complicated peach punch that blends the infused vodka with gin, elderflower liquor and honey.

You can pour summer into your cocktail glass with this recipe for a Peach Mule:

Peach Mule

• 2 oz. Alizé Peach

• 1 oz. Vodka

• 1/2 oz. simple syrup

• 3/4 oz. lime juice

• Top off with ginger beer

For a summer feel, use a Collins glass rather than a mug (the traditional Mule vessel), and stir gently. Enjoy in the shade or with a gentle summer breeze.

Spring Shellfish Stew with Kale and Pancetta

— The notion of buying local can be applied in various ways, but perhaps no way is as satisfying as buying local foods. Local, in-season foods taste fresh, and eco-conscious foodies can enjoy their meals even more knowing the ingredients did not travel far and wide to make it onto their plates.

Local, in-season seafood is both fresh and affordable, and now is a great time to try the following recipe for “Spring Shellfish Stew with Kale and Pancetta” from Jill Lightner’s “Edible Seattle” (Sterling Epicure).

Spring Shellfish Stew with Kale and Pancetta

Serves 4

1/4 pound pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced

3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste

1 small (roughly 1/2 pound) bunch kale, stemmed and sliced into 1/4-inch thick ribbons


Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups dry white wine

1 28-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes

1 8-ounce bottle clam juice

3 cups chicken or fish stock

3/4 pound manila clams, scrubbed clean

3/4 pound mussels, scrubbed clean and debearded if necessary (discard any that are broken or won’t close)

1 pound halibut fillet, cut into 1-inch cubes

3/4 pound (about 12) extra-large shrimp, deveined (optional)

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

  1. Heat a large, deep soup pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta, cover, and cook until browned, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving the fat in the pot.

  2. Add the onion to the pot and cook until soft, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, red pepper and kale, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring and turning as the kale on the bottom cooks down.

  3. Increase the heat to high, add the wine and simmer for 2 minutes.

  4. Use your hands to break the tomatoes into small pieces and add them, along with their juices, and the clam juice, stock and pancetta to the pot. Lower the heat to medium and simmer the stew, partially covered, until the kale is soft and the tomatoes begin to break down, about 30 minutes. (You can add a little water, if too much evaporates.) Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  5. Add the clams and mussels to the pot and cook, tightly covered, for 5 minutes. Add the fish and shrimp, if using, stirring them into the broth, and simmer, covered, until the fish is cooked and all the shellfish have opened, another 5 minutes or so. Serve piping hot in bowls, sprinkled with the parsley. (Discard any clams or mussels that won’t open.) PC166148

Think outside the backyard barbecue box

— While backyard barbecue menus are often dominated by hot dogs and hamburgers, hosts can expand that menu however they see fit. For example, fried chicken is a natural complement to popular backyard barbecue fare,s^s such as potato salad and fresh watermelon.

Store-bought fried chicken can suffice in a pinch, but hosts who want to go the extra mile and offer a delicious homemade meal can prepare the following recipe for “Kansas City Fried Chicken” courtesy of Neal Corman’s “Virgil’s Barbecue Road Trip Cookbook” (St. Martin’s Press).

Kansas City Fried Chicken

Serves 4 to 6

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup hot sauce

51/2 tablespoons Fried Chicken

Spice Mix (see below), divided

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 4-pound whole roaster chickens, cut into 10 pieces each

5 cups all-purpose flour

21/2 cups canola oil

  1. In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly blend the buttermilk, hot sauce, 2 tablespoons of the Fried Chicken Spice Mix, salt, and 1 cup cold water.
  2. Press the chicken pieces into the marinade. Place in a covered container (ensuring that the chicken is covered with marinade), and refrigerate for 24 hours.
  3. Thoroughly combine the flour with 31/2 tablespoons of the Fried Chicken Spice Mix in a medium bowl.
  4. In a large and deep pan, or an electric skillet, add enough canola oil to fill the pan one-third full. Heat the oil to 350 F.
  5. Set the marinated chicken next to the bowl of flour, close to the skillet. Remove a piece of chicken from the marinade, allow any excess to drain, then dredge in the flour mix. Shake off the excess flour and slide into the skillet.
  6. Fry the chicken for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 F. Fry the chicken in batches, being careful not to crowd the skillet and to maintain the right temperature.
  7. Remove the fried chicken to a sheet pan covered with three or four layers of paper towels. When all the chicken has been fried and dried on the paper towels, allow to cool slightly before serving.

Fried Chicken Spice Mix

Makes 2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons

6 tablespoons kosher salt

6 tablespoons sweet paprika

5 tablespoons onion powder

5 tablespoons garlic powder

3 tablespoons dry mustard

3 tablespoons cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon poultry seasoning

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried sage

1 tablespoon chili powder

Thoroughly blend all of the ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and transfer to a covered container. Keep in a cool, dry place until needed.

Wings to make any barbecue fan blush

— Chicken wings are beloved by people of all ages and appetites. While many people only eat wings when out on the town, this lovable bar food can be enjoyed at home as well. The next time the big game is on or you simply have a hunger for homemade wings, try your hand at the following recipe for “Virgil’s Smoked Chicken Wings With Blue Cheese Dip” from Neal Corman’s “Virgil’s Barbecue Road Trip Cookbook” (St. Martin’s Press).

Virgil’s Smoked Chicken Wings With Blue Cheese Dip

Serves 4

Blue Cheese Dip

2 cups blue cheese crumbles, divided

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons hot sauce

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup finely chopped scallions

1/4 cup finely chopped celery


1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup hot sauce

4 tablespoons Virgil’s Dry Rub (see below)

4 tablespoons granulated garlic

4 tablespoons granulated onion

Juice of 1/2 lemon


8 large chicken wings

1/2 cup Virgil’s Dry Rub (see below)


10 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon cornstarch

4 tablespoons white vinegar

3/4 cup hot sauce

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  1. To make the dip, combine 1 cup of the blue cheese, mayonnaise, buttermilk, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and blend on low until smooth.
  2. Remove to a medium mixing bowl and fold in the rest of the blue cheese, scallions and celery, being sure to break up the larger blue cheese crumbles. Place in a covered container and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Mix all the marinade ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Place the wings in a large container with a lid and pour the mixture over the wings. Toss until the wings are thoroughly coated. Cover and refrigerate for 2 days.
  4. Preheat the grill or smoker to 245 F.
  5. Spread out the wings on a sheet pan and wipe away any excess marinade. Sprinkle liberally with the dry rub, coating the wings all over.
  6. Position the wings on the grill away from the direct heat of the coals or burners, and add hickory to the smoker or hickory chips on the coals or gas burners.
  7. Cook the wings for about 3 hours, flipping every 30 minutes (their internal temperature should be about 165 F when cooked).
  8. While the wings are cooking, cut the butter for the sauce into 1-inch cubes and refrigerate. Whisk the cornstarch into the white vinegar, in a small bowl.
  9. In a medium saute^a pan over medium heat, bring the hot sauce to a simmer and whisk in the thickened vinegar. Return to a simmer, cook for 1 minute, and remove from the heat.
  10. Add the cayenne and slowly whisk in the cold butter. Keep warm until serving.
  11. Remove the wings from the smoker or grill and put half of them into a bowl, cover with the sauce, and toss. Repeat with the remaining wings and serve on a platter, with the blue cheese dip on the side.

Virgil’s Dry Rub

Makes 5 to 51/2 cups

21/2 cups sweet paprika

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup Texas-style chili powder

1/2 cup minced onion

1/2 cup granulated garlic

1/4 cup dried parsley flakes

6 tablespoons kosher salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk together until completely incorporated. Transfer to a covered bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Store in a cool, dry place. PC164003

Game Day menus that score big

— Even if your team isn’t playing in the big game, you can still come out a winner with a tasty viewing party recipe. Plan your menu ahead of time so you can be confident you’ll score big with a spread that leaves guests cheering long after the game has ended.

These tips will help you get started with a lineup that gets your guests’ taste buds running into overtime:

•Chips and dips are tailgating staples, but even they can stand a fresh twist of flavor. If you’re seeking inspiration, Hidden Valley Dip Genius can help you find a dip to pump up your menu. The online tool makes picking a hearty, savory, light or chunky dip recipe easy, allowing you to find a dip based on your occasion, mood and flavor. Visit to find a new dip recipe.

•Anticipate all styles of snacking. Finger foods are ideal for grazing between plays and during commercials. Plan on serving more substantial entree-style dishes during halftime: sliders, BBQ brisket, pulled pork, soup and chili are all crowd-pleasers perfect for game day.

•When it comes to dessert, fuss-free is the way to go. An array of cookies, brownies and dessert bars will satisfy the sweet tooth. Take your dessert table to the next level by icing your treats in team colors.

Find these and more recipes for your game day celebration at or

Baked Spinach and Chicken Dip

Baked Spinach and Chicken Dip

Baked Spinach and Chicken Dip

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Serves: 12

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, cubed

1 cup Hidden Valley Original Ranch Dressing

1 package (10 ounces) frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1/2 cup cooked chicken, chopped

Heat oven to 375 F.

In microwave-safe medium bowl, add cream cheese and dressing. Microwave on high 30 seconds, or until cream cheese is soft. Stir to combine. Add spinach and Parmesan cheese. Mix well. Add chicken and stir to combine.

Transfer mixture to baking dish that holds at least 6 cups. Bake 20 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown. The internal temperature should be 165 F.

Serve with crackers, bread or veggie sticks.

Tips: If you like it spicy, substitute Hidden Valley Farmhouse Originals Southwest Chipotle Dressing and add diced pickled jalapenos. For fewer calories, try Hidden Valley The Original Ranch Light Dressing. To make ahead, prepare unbaked dip up to 3 days ahead; store covered and refrigerated. Bake prior to serving.

Ranch Buffalo Wings

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Serves: 7

1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted

1/4 cup cayenne pepper sauce

3 tablespoons vinegar

24 chicken wings or drumettes

1 packet (1 ounce) Hidden Valley Original Ranch Salad Dressing & Seasoning Mix

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 cup prepared Hidden Valley Original Ranch Salad Dressing & Seasoning Mix

Heat oven to 350 F.

In small bowl, whisk together butter, pepper sauce and vinegar. Dip wings or drumettes in butter mixture; arrange in single layer in large baking pan. Sprinkle with dressing and seasoning mix. Bake until chicken is browned and an internal temperature of 165 F has been reached, about 30-40 minutes. Sprinkle with paprika.

Serve with dressing and celery sticks.

Less stress this Thanksgiving: 7 Easy steps to your best turkey yet

— Selecting, preparing and cooking the centerpiece of your family’s Thanksgiving meal can pile on a lot of stress. However there are some easy ways to simplify the process.

“There are a lot of great choices, but they can certainly be overwhelming during a busy holiday,” says Theo Weening, Global Meat Buyer for Whole Foods Market.

Here are seven basic rules to ensure you have the perfect turkey for your holiday meal.

  1. Plan ahead: Frozen turkeys can take several days to fully thaw. The safest method is by placing it on a tray in its packaging to catch drips, and put it in the refrigerator on the lowest shelf. Plan for one full day of thawing for every five pounds of turkey. If you’re short on time, put your turkey in a leak-proof wrapper and submerge it completely in cold tap water. The water should be changed every 30 minutes. Plan for 30 minutes of thawing time per pound.
  2. Research: There are many different types of turkey to choose from. Some grocers carry a variety of birds and additionally have in-house butcher experts behind the counter to help you choose what is right for your taste and budget. Here are the five types of turkey found at Whole Foods Market:

• Organic: fed organic feed (that means no GMOs, among other things) and given access to the outdoors.

• Classic: known for their trifecta of flavor, quality, and value.

• Heritage: rich, succulent, old-world breeds cherished for flavor.

• Heirloom: robust flavor with a higher percentage of dark meat.

• Kosher: certified kosher.

  1. Size matters: A good rule of thumb is to buy 1.5 pounds of turkey per person, providing everyone a healthy portion while allowing for those sought after leftovers.
  2. Read the label: The best birds are raised with the highest standards. This means no antibiotics, no animal by-products in their feed, no added solutions or injections and no added growth hormones. To make it simple, shop at a store that only carries turkeys raised with these standards, such as Whole Foods Market. Their turkeys are also 5-Step Animal Welfare rated.
  3. Brine: Soaking turkey in a saltwater solution for four to 24 hours before roasting keeps it tender and juicy. Try a brine kit for a simple and easy recipe.
  4. Time it: It takes approximately 13 minutes per pound to cook a turkey at 350 degrees, and the turkey is done once it reaches 165 degrees. Use a meat thermometer and insert it into the thickest part of the thigh (without hitting the bone) to test the temperature.
  5. Rest: Wait 30 minutes before carving the turkey. Giving the turkey time to rest allows the juices to redistribute for better flavor.

More turkey tips are available at

When it comes to choosing and cooking your holiday turkey, preparation is key. Do your research, know what you like, and enjoy the rest.

Delight guests with restaurant-quality dessert

— Many people feel dessert is the best part of any meal. When dining out, diners who can’t wait to peruse the dessert menu may find several items they think they can only enjoy at restaurants. But food fans need not be experts in the kitchen to enjoy their favorite desserts in the comforts of home. The following recipe for “Luscious Créme Brûlée” from Lori Longbotham’s “Luscious Creamy Desserts” (Chronicle Books) is a restaurant-quality dessert that’s simple to prepare and just as decadent as desserts you many find on the menus of your favorite restaurants.

Luscious Créme Brûlée

Serves 8

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 cup half-and-half

6 large egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 F. Have ready a flame-proof 1-quart shallow baking or gratin dish and a roasting pan. Put on a kettle of water to boil for the water bath.
  2. Heat the cream and half-and-half in a medium saucepan over medium heat until hot. Remove from the heat.
  3. Whisk together the yolks, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and the salt in a medium bowl. Slowly add the cream mixture, whisking constantly until blended and smooth. Add the vanilla. Pour the mixture through a fine strainer set over a medium glass measuring cup or bowl.
  4. Pour the custard into the baking dish and skim any foam from the top. Transfer to the roasting pan, place in the oven, and pour enough boiling water into the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the custard is set around the edges but still slightly jiggly in the center. Do not overbake – the custard will set further as it cools. Remove the baking dish from the water bath and let cool completely on a wire rack.
  5. Refrigerate the créme brûlée, loosely covered, for at least 4 hours, until thoroughly chilled and set, or for up to 1 day.
  6. Preheat the broiler. Have the roasting pan ready, and fill a bowl with ice water. Gently blot the surface of the custard with the edge of a paper towel to remove any condensation. Sift the remaining 1/4 cup sugar evenly over the custard. Place the baking dish in the roasting pan and carefully pour enough ice water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the baking dish.
  7. Broil the custard about 3 inches from the heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the sugar has melted and turned a dark amber color; carefully move or rotate the dish if necessary so the sugar caramelizes evenly. Remove from the broiler and cool the custard in the ice water for 5 minutes.
  8. Carefully remove the baking dish from the baking pan. Serve right away, or refrigerate, uncovered, for no longer than 1 hour before serving – or the topping will soften.

Trends you may see when dining out

— Restaurants are thriving once again. Since 2014, restaurant-goers have renewed interest in socializing away from home and more money to spend, a stark turnaround from preceding years when diners were living on tighter budgets thanks to a recession that began in 2008.

As crowds waiting in line for their favorite eateries begin to grow anew, restaurants have begun to implement new menus and dining styles in an attempt to attract a broader clientele. Many trends are catering to the younger, technology-driven customer.

· Photo-ready foods: Diners are utilizing social media to share their menu choices with people all around the world. Scroll through anyone’s news feed and you’re likely to find photograph’s of last night’s entre^ae or an impressive dessert enjoyed during a night out with friends. Many restauranteurs understand that their latest culinary creation is likely to find its way onto social media, so a greater emphasis is being placed on plating – or making foods look better when first presented to diners.

· Digital kiosks: Desire an appetizer or want to reorder another beverage? You may not have to flag down your server to do so. Several restaurants have implemented tablet-based service at their tables. In addition to playing games or getting apprised on the latest specials, guests can order some menu items through table-mounted tablets. And if you’re in a rush for the check, swipe your credit card and pay the bill without waiting for your waiter to bring it over.

· Healthier kids’ choices: For years the standard fare for kids has been burgers, fries and various recipes for mac-and-cheese. But a survey of professional chefs sponsored by the National Restaurant Association revealed that many restaurants are now offering a greater variety of foods on kids’ menus. Soups, salads, leaner meats, and more vegetables are some of the items kids can choose from.

· Increase in craft foods: Greater emphasis is being placed on creating meals that look and taste good and are produced in eco- and community-friendly ways. Craft foods are made in small batches from locally sourced ingredients, helping to create a symbiotic relationship between eateries, farmers, food manufacturers, and diners.

· Community tables: Make new friends while dining out by getting seated at community tables, which are no longer restricted to Japanese hibachi restaurants. These larger tables pair different diners together.

· Neurogastronomy: Many restaurants are employing neurogastronomy, or the science of manipulating perception of how foods taste by external factors. Everything from the colors of dishes to the sounds of music being piped in can affect your perception of taste.

· Prepaid reservations: Today you can purchase just about anything in advance, from movie tickets to vacations. Soon you may be able to prepay for restaurant meals as well. Arrive at your reserved time and enjoy your meal. This trend is beneficial to restaurants because they are guaranteed revenue even if patrons do not show up.

Trends in dining out can make meal experiences more unique. Expect some new changes at your favorite restaurants.

A flavorful twist on a Sunday brunch staple

— Sunday brunch is a great time for families to relax and catch up over a good meal. When hosting your next family brunch, go with an old favorite, such as the following recipe for “Golden Pecan Waffles With Warm Salted Caramel Sauce and Bananas” from Betty Rosbottom’s “Sunday Brunch” (Chronicle Books), that’s sure to please.

Golden Pecan Waffles With Warm Salted Caramel Sauce and Bananas

Serves 4 to 6

Warm Salted Caramel Sauce

11/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup water

2/3 cup half-and-half

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced

1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel

3 ripe, but not soft, bananas, cut into 1/2-inch slices

Golden Pecan Waffles

13/4 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

2 cups buttermilk

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (see tip)

  1. For the Warm Salted Caramel Sauce: Combine the sugar and water in a heavy, medium saucepan set over low heat, swirling the pan occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat and boil, without stirring, until the mixture is syrupy and turns a rich golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly stir in the half-and-half. Be very careful because the mixture will bubble vigorously. Whisk in the butter and then add the fleur de sel. (The caramel sauce can be prepared 2 days ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring, over medium heat.) Stir in the bananas. Cover and keep warm.
  2. For the Golden Pecan Waffles: Preheat a waffle iron (and if you plan to hold the waffles until serving time, preheat the oven to 200 F).
  3. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and buttermilk.
  4. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the egg mixture, blending gently only until the ingredients are combined. Add the butter in a slow stream, continuing to blend until the butter is incorporated. Fold in the pecans.
  5. Pour 1/2 cup of the batter (or more, depending on the size of your waffle iron) onto the waffle iron and, using a metal spatula or table knife, spread the batter to within 1/2 inch of the edge. Close the cover and cook approximately 3 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown. (If your waffles aren’t crisp, even after a “ready signal” has sounded, continue to cook them, watching carefully, until crisp and golden. If not serving immediately, place the waffles in a single layer on a baking sheet in the preheated oven while you finish the remaining batter.)
  6. Serve waffles topped with several spoonfuls of the Warm Caramel Sauce and bananas.

Tip: To toast pecans, spread on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 350 F oven until fragrant and lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Watch carefully so the nuts do not burn. Remove and cool.