Chocolate-marbled banana bread

Oh. Hello there.

Certain words, when incorporated into food descriptions, make any dish immediately sound  appetizing. Stuffed. Toasted. Encrusted. Another favorite is marbled. "Chocolate-marbled banana bread" sounds a gazillion times more drool-worthy than just "chocolate banana bread." Of course, adding chocolate enhances the bread, too!

This is a great weekend recipe, and by that I mean it's a great one to bake when you've got a little extra time on your hands and don't mind dirtying a few dishes (or every single bowl in the kitchen, if you bake the way I do.) It's chewy, sweet (although not overly so), and comforting, and the marbled look gives it that little extra something special. Oh, and it's vegan! (Thanks, PPK!)

You will need:

  • 1 cup mashed very-ripe bananas (1-2 bananas, depending on size)
  • 3/4 cup sugar (coconut sugar works well, if you're into that sort of thing)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1/3 cup almond or soy milk
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • a handful of vegan chocolate chips (optional)
  • 6 Tbsp boiling water, divided

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F and prep a loaf pan with non-stick spray or a little oil. Set aside.
  2. Using a fork, mash the bananas in a large bowl until they're pretty smooth. (I'd echo Isa's advice and say it's worthwhile to measure out a cup afterwards to make sure you have the right amount.) Add the sugar, vanilla, oil, and milk to the same bowl; mix with a wooden spoon until everything is incorporated.
  3. Next, add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt to the same bowl, and mix gently only until everything is just incorporated. (I think I over-mixed here, as my loaf didn't look as fluffy as Isa's version! It still tastes amazing though, so don't worry too much.)
  4. Measure out one cup of this batter and move it to a different bowl. Keep this to the side for now. (This will become the chocolate part.)
  5. Use a mug and a fork to stir 3 Tbsp of the boiling water into the cocoa powder until it's dissolved. Pour the cocoa mixture into the one cup of banana batter, tossing in a handful of chocolate chips if desired. (Um, yes.) Mix the chocolatiness (yes, it's a word) into the one cup of batter until it's smooth and beautifully brown.
  6. Add the remaining 3 Tbsp of boiling water to the original (plain) banana batter; mix until it's relatively smooth.
  7. Scoop alternating 1/2 cups of the plain banana batter and the chocolate-banana batter into the greased loaf ban. Don't worry about it looking pretty just yet! After all the batter is in the pan, swirl a butter knife in a random pattern through the pan, creating a marbled effect.
  8. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool before slicing and serving.

And that's it! It's not a difficult recipe, but it does involve quite a few steps. As I said, my loaf came out more dense than Isa's, judging by her picture, and I think that's down to slightly over-mixing and maybe using a bigger pan than she used. But nonetheless, it turned out delicious, and Bryan and I have each had at least two pieces per day so far! (P.S. How amazing would this be with peanut butter chips mixed into the chocolate batter?)

***Update (8/8/14):

I made this a second time and added 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder, which made a more classic, top-rounded loaf. I also discovered this recipe makes enough batter for three mini loaves -- perfect for thank-you gifts or just-because-I-freaking-felt-like-it presents. The second time around, I used Trader Joe's gluten-free baking mix instead of all-purpose flour, since I'm planning to give one of these to a friend who's nice enough to take our butts back and forth to the airport later in the week. (Can't wait to be back in PA for a couple days! Boehringer's is tops on my list of food priorities!)

Creamy chickpea and rice soup with kale (4-6 servings)

Look at my shiny new blog! Managing the old blog through Google/Blogger/eNom was way too complicated, so Bryan convinced me to check out  Squarespace, and I think I'm off to a good start. It's still a work in progress, but I'm happy with it so far.

Yes, it's summer in North Carolina, and no, soup is not a traditionally summery dish. However, the carrots and kale that go into the soup are in season! I've mentioned before that I'm a huge fan of chickpeas, so I'm always searching for new ways to cook them, and this creamy vegan soup from the PPK seemed like a great one to try.

Soaking and grinding up raw cashews was a new technique for me. The cashews bring richness and creaminess to the soup without adding dairy fat, and the addition of cooked rice also makes the broth thick and hearty. This one is definitely a keeper. 

You will need:

  • 3/4 cup raw, unsalted cashews, soaked in water for 2 hours to overnight
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped into thin pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 3/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 3/4 cup rice, rinsed (I used Jasmine)
  • 3 ribs celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup carrots, diced chunky
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 tsp sweet smoked paprika, opt. (lends a lovely smoky undertone) 
  • 2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 4 cups chopped or shredded kale, thick stems removed

Steps: 

  1. Once the cashews have soaked for a few hours, drain them and place them in a blender or food processor, along with a cup of fresh water. Blend the water and cashews until the mixture is completely smooth. (You might need to scrape down the sides with a spatula once or twice.)
  2. In the meantime, heat the oil over medium heat in a stock pot. Sauté the onion, along with a pinch of salt, for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Add in the garlic, rosemary, and thyme, and sauté one more minute.
  3. Next, add in the rice, celery, carrots, and broth (and paprika, if using). Cover the pot, raise the heat, and bring it to a boil. Once it boils, lower the heat to a simmer, add the chickpeas, and allow the soup to simmer for 15 more minutes, or until the rice and carrots are cooked.  
  4. Finally, pour in the cashew cream and add in the chopped kale. Let the soup simmer another 3-5 minutes to allow the kale to wilt a bit. Add more water if the soup is too thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and then let the soup sit for 10 minutes before serving.

In the original recipe, Isa notes that the soup gets thicker as it cools, so it might be necessary to thin out the leftovers with a bit of water. We'll see when I eat more of it for lunch today! The first batch was definitely thick last night. I struggled to get through a whole bowl; it was so delicious, but my eyes were hungrier than my stomach! This soup contains a healthy amount of both protein and fiber, and I can imagine it would be a great treat after a chilly day of shoveling snow or sledding. But for me, it was a nice way to end yet another day of unpacking and cleaning at our new apartment. (How do two people make so much laundry?!)

Black Assorted bean and quinoa soup (6 servings)

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Hey, readers! I'm back! (Don't call it a comeback.)

I could give all sorts of excuses for why I haven't posted in a while, but the truth is I just haven't been in the mood. It's not that I haven't been cooking or trying new recipes, but I just haven't had the energy to sit down and update lately.

Today's recipe comes from the ever-inspiring Post-Punk Kitchen, a fun and funky vegan recipe blog. I found the recipe while searching for ways to begin using the two-pound bag of quinoa a co-worker generously gave to me. The idea of using undrained beans intrigued me, just because I'm so used to draining and rinsing canned beans whenever I use them. However, I was happily surprised to find that the bean liquid lends a silky richness to the broth -- exactly what this recipe had been missing! I'll have to test out this technique in other recipes in the future.

You will need: 

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup fresh tomato, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed and rubbed to remove bitter taste
  • 1 large carrot, cut into 1/4-inch chunks
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cups vegetable broth, divided
  • 1 24-oz can black beans (I used two 15-oz cans - one pinto and one Great Northern because I was shamefully short on black beans)
  • a big squeeze of tomato paste

Steps:

  1. Heat the oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add in the onion and sauté with a pinch of salt until the onion is translucent. (It's always much longer than the recipe says, at least on my stove!)
  2. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute or so. Then add the tomato, cumin, oregano, and red pepper flakes; cook and stir for a minute to let the tomatoes start to break down.
  3. Next, add the quinoa, carrots, bay leaves, and 2 cups of the broth. (Save the rest for the next step.) Cover and increase the heat to bring to a boil; let it boil for 5 minutes.
  4. Finally, add the remaining broth, the undrained beans, and the tomato paste. Re-cover the pot, bring it back to a boil, and then lower the heat and uncover; let the soup simmer for 10 more minutes.
  5. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes before serving. The original recipe suggests serving the soup with crushed tortilla chips, cilantro, and avocado, which would have been awesome if I'd had any of those things!

I'm not especially proud of the photo I took (soup seems especially difficult to photograph) but it does show the silky texture of the broth, I think. The cumin, oregano, and red pepper flakes worked well together without any one spice dominating. I'm looking forward to leftovers, since soup is often more flavorful the next day!

Vegetarian Thanksgiving spectacular!

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Happy (almost) Thanksgiving! Instead of relegating yourself to a plate full of side dishes this year, why not make a delicious meat-free (and dairy-free!) main dish? I first tried the Post-Punk Kitchen's chickpea cutlets last Thanksgiving, when I made dinner for just me and Bryan. This year, I'll be making them again, alongside a (free-range, vegetarian-fed, organic) turkey breast for my sister, who's visiting from PA. (And I can't wait to see her! Yaaaay!) 

Now I know that next to a moist, fragrant, crispy-skinned turkey, chickpeas seem... well, boring. But this recipe is surprisingly hearty and flavorful. The thyme and sage bring in traditional Thanksgiving flavors, and the wheat gluten makes the "cutlets" chewy on the inside. I had never cooked with vital wheat gluten before, so seeing strings of gluten spontaneously appear in the dough made me feel like some sort of scientist. It was fun! I've made this recipe several times since last Thanksgiving, and I've found that if the dough gets mixed for too long, the cutlets become too chewy -- like cheese-long-ago-stuck-to-the-pizza-box chewy. So don't mix them too long! They freeze really well, so I'd recommend making enough to put away for later!

You will need:

  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 16-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 1 cup plain breadcrumbs (not fresh)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage
  • canola or olive oil for frying

Steps:

  1. Add the garlic cloves to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until chopped. Then add the chickpeas in with the garlic and pulse again until the chickpeas are mashed (but not so long that they get puréed). Transfer the garlic and chickpeas to a bowl.
  2. Add all the remaining ingredients (minus the extra oil for frying) to the chickpea mixture and use your hands to knead the dough just until strings of gluten form, which will be a minute or two. (The original recipe has a helpful photo.)
  3. Preheat a large rimmed skillet over medium-low. Add just enough oil to make a thin layer on the bottom.
  4. Divide the cutlet "dough" into two equal parts. Then divide each half into four pieces, making eight pieces total. Shape each piece by hand, stretching and flattening until you have eight rectangular-ish shapes about 4" by 6" in size. (A flat surface like a cutting board will help.)
  5. Place the cutlets in the pan and cook them 6-7 minutes per side. They will be browned and crispy on both sides when they're done. You might need to add a little more oil to the pan when you flip them. Allow them to rest for a few minutes before serving.

If you have to make these in two batches, you can keep the first batch warm under aluminum foil while the second round cooks. I recommend either Hain Brown Gravy Mix or Imagine Wild Mushroom Gravy with these. I think the Hain gravy tastes better, but it does require cooking and stirring it on the stovetop (trust me: the microwave method is gross); the Imagine gravy is ready-to-serve out of the box. 

Last year, I served this with Smitten Kitchen's garlic butter roasted mushroomsEpicurious' roasted green beans and cashews, and Rachael Ray's red-skinned mashed potatoes. I may just do the exact same thing this year!

Vegan taco filling (6+ servings)

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Whenever I'm in the mood for a new vegan recipe, I go right to the Post Punk Kitchen. Not only does the blog have a kick-ass name, but it's also loaded with creative animal product-free recipes, from drool-worthy chickpea cutlets to sweet, homey apple crisp. The ancho lentil tacos recipe is one of my favorites, especially if we're having friends over. It's simple to make, and it easily feeds at least four people. I love festooning the table with a variety of bowls, each filled with a different topping or accent ingredient. It makes me look like I spent much more time preparing for company than I really did.

I made two big changes to the original recipe: I used chipotle powder instead of ancho chile powder, and I cooked the onion for much longer than suggested. The original recipe suggests only lightly browning the onion, but I have to cook it thoroughly to prevent my insides from rebelling. If you're okay with semi-raw onions, feel free to follow the original directions.

You will need:

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 1/2 cups cooked lentils (from 1 cup dried)
  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp hot sauce 
  • Small flour tortillas (make sure they aren't made with lard!)
  • A variety of vegan or non-vegan toppings: jalapeno slices, avocado, guacamole, cheese, sour cream, salsa, toasted corn, green onions, lettuce, chopped tomatoes, etc.

Spice mix:

  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1-2 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Steps:

  1. Sort through the dried lentils to check for any sticks or stones, and then rinse the lentils with cold water and drain. Add the lentils and 2 cups water to a stockpot; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour -- whenever they're tender. Drain off any leftover water and allow the lentils to cool. (I usually do this step in the morning and then use the lentils to make dinner later that day.)
  2. Combine the spice mix ingredients in a small bowl and set them aside.
  3. Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium heat; cook the onion and garlic with a pinch of salt until everything is deep brown and soft (at least 20 minutes).
  4. Add the spices to the onions and toss for 30 seconds. Add the lentils to the skillet, along with the tomato paste, hot sauce, and few teaspoons of water. Fold the lentils into the onion mixture, mashing them with the back of your spoon or spatula as you go. Add more water if the mixture gets crumbly. Continue doing this until the mixture is well-mashed and well-combined. Add more salt, if needed. Serve in tortillas with your favorite toppings.

The mixture itself is totally vegan; the way I served it in the photo, with sour cream and cheese, is not vegan, of course. Last year, I made this recipe for our friends Lisa and James, and although they recently moved out of state, they're always in our hearts! Miss you both!