Monday, March 23, 2009

Whole-Wheat Banana Bread

I love banana bread. Always have, always will.

And I'm not alone. Banana bread is a quick bread (a sweet, cake-like bread) that has been a standard feature in American cookbooks since the popularization of baking powder and baking soda in the 1930's. The origin of the very first banana bread is unknown, though I suspect that somewhere along the line a clever lady had one too many overripe bananas in her kitchen and got creative. In the 1960's, bakers got a little wild with their recipes and started adding fruits and nuts to their breads. My feeling on this is that any added fruit is pretty much a crime, but whoever decided to throw in walnuts deserves some sort of kitchen genius award. That's just plain awesome.

So, on to my relationship with banana bread. One of my biggest concerns when becoming a vegan was making sure I could still create my very favorite moist delicious treat (banana bread, duh). Over the course of a few weeks, I tested out veganized versions of old family recipes I already had, as well as versions from vegan cook books and websites. None suited me perfectly, so I decided to wing it. By pulling my favorite aspects from both, I wound up with a delightful version that is bound to please vegans and non-vegans alike. And I'm not kidding with that, the LOST boys (aka the boys who come over and watch LOST weekly) ate an entire loaf during last week's episode. Good job, boys.

A note on the whole-wheat: Over the past few years, we've learned that whole grains are far better for us than the white, bleached variety. While I think both have their place in the world, I think this recipe lends itself well to the use of whole wheat flour. The taste difference is slight, and is a healthy addition to this rather rustic-looking loaf. It's interchangeable, however, so if you're craving banana bread and only have white flour, go for it anyway.

1 cup white vegan sugar
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
1/2 cup vegan margarine (I prefer Earth Balance) plus 2 tbsp for topping and more to coat pans
2-3 very ripe bananas
1/4 cup soymilk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Sanding sugar (raw turbinado if you have it)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Prep a loaf pan (8x4 is a good choice) by coating with extra margarine.

Sift together your dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt & spices, set this aside. Next, cream together your margarine, sugar, and maple syrup. The mix should be well blended and smooth, as pictured below:

Next, add your bananas. Because I'm using my super-pretty-begonia-pink Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer, I generally throw in the bananas in halves. She's pretty hard core, and can mix up just about anything you throw at her. However, if you're using a run-of-the-mill hand mixer, it would be a really good idea to mash those bad boys up with a fork first. This way, you won't tire out your mixer (which could lead to fires, bad idea), and will avoid clumpy banana bread. Either way, mix the bananas in to your batter. Measure out your soymilk, and add the apple cider vinegar right in to the measuring cup. Let it sit for a minute til it curdles... like soy buttermilk. Buttersoymilk? Add the soy milk and vanilla to your mixture and blend. Now, instead of having some sort of beautiful smooth mixture, you may be looking at something that is odd and separate-looking. Don't worry, this is normal. The banana and the butter don't seem to get along until the flour is added later. I've included a photo for reference:

Now, add the dry ingredients in sections, until everything is well blended. Now would be the time to add those optional walnuts. You should have a relatively stiff batter, as pictured:

Next, pour the batter into your prepared pan, and spread until even. Heat up that reserved two tablespoons of margarine in the microwave or over the stove (if you're like Rebecca and have an aversion to microwaves) just until it melts. Pour or brush it evenly over the batter, and sprinkle sanding sugar over top. Normally, I would have used Sugar in the Raw here, as it lends to a pretty effect. Sadly, I was out, so I used some more of my white vegan sugar. Either is fine.

As you can see here, I was making a double recipe. Just FYI. A note, the topping looks best if imperfect. It gives the bread a nice rustic look that just screams homemade.

Bake about 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes, depending on your oven. As with most sweet breads, make sure a knife or toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center. Cool on a rack until you can touch it without burning yourself, and serve warm.

This bread is sweet, moist and buttery, and is my favorite way to use up some old bananas. If you are watching your waistline, you can replace half the margarine with applesauce and skip the topping. You'd be surprised how little a difference that makes. It's still delish!

Bon appetit!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Veganversary: Moussaka

The next installment in the Veganversary-meal saga is a dish that hails from the Middle East: Moussaka. The dish dates back to the 11th century, and versions of it have been found in Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece. Originally, this dish was commonly made with lamb, but as I'm a vegan we're going to stick to vegetables. The Greeks tend to make their moussaka in layers, and this is the form I follow. Like many of my favorite dishes, this recipe is adapted from Veganomicon. I've made it so many times, however, that I know it by heart.


1 lb. eggplant
1 lb. zucchini squash
1 1/2 potatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
4 shallots
4 cloves garlic
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1 bay leaf
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cinnamon
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
For the topping:
1/2 pine nuts
juice of one lemon
1 package soft silken tofu
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp arrowroot powder
dash white pepper
dash salt
dash nutmeg

To get started, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the eggplant, zucchini, and potatoes into 1/4" or thinner slices lengthwise. Go for lengthwise, so you'll have larger pieces. This'll save you some precious time later. Rinse off the eggplant slices, and rub them with salt. They'll drain some liquid after, so put them in a colander and place them on a towel of some variety. Nobody wants eggplant juice all over the countertop.

Spread 1/4 cup of the olive oil between 2-3 baking sheets, and add the veggies. Toss to coat, and appropriately salt and pepper them. And by appropriately, I mean don't re-salt that eggplant. Phew, that would be salty. Bake them in your preheated oven 25 minutes for the potatoes, and 15 minutes for the zucchini and eggplant. Everything should be headed toward golden brown.

While this baking is occuring, you can get started on your sauce. In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium-high. Mince the garlic cloves and throw them in, allowing them to sizzle for a minute or so while you chop the scallions. Add them to your hot pot and cook them til they soften, about two or three minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, oregano, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Cover and cook for about 12 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced slightly.

Next, it's time to prepare the pine nut cream topping. This recipe is from Veganomicon, too, and I use it for *everything.* Pine nut cream tastes especially great alongside tomato-based dishes like this one, or lasagne! It's also quite simple.

So, put the pine nuts and lemon juice into the food processor and blend until it forms a paste. Then, throw in your tofu, garlic cloves, arrowroot powder, salt, white pepper, and nutmeg and blend until smooth. Adjust to taste.

Now, once your veggies have left the oven and had a chance to cool off, it's time to put it all together! (if necessary, re-heat the oven to 400 degrees now.)

Spread a thin layer of the tomato sauce across the bottom of a casserole dish. Top with a layer of eggplant (use half of what you have), followed by a layer of potatoes (again, half). Spread some more sauce on, then sprinkle on half the breadcrumbs evenly. Place all the zucchini in a layer, then add a bit more sauce, and repeat eggplant, potato, and breadcrumbs. Top with the rest of the sacue.

Finally, spread the pine nut cream across the top evenly. Sprinkle on some pine nuts for prettiness! Pop that bad boy into the oven and bake for 35 minutes or so, or until the pine nut cream has browned and begun to crack slightly.

This dish tastes great fresh out of the oven, or re-heated the next day as leftovers. Sierra and I re-heated some for lunch today, and enjoyed it as a picnic lunch with salad and bread. Sierra made a great balsamic-dijon dressing and the yellow tomatoes added some flavor and color.

The verdict? Centuries-old recipes are still delicious these days. Thanks, ancestors, for writing this stuff down.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My Very First Veganversary: Tabouli Salad

Hello, my dears.

This past weekend was the well-received Veganversary party, celebrating my first full year as a vegan! Now, silly as it sounds, I felt that this was an excellent reason to hold a dinner party. I mean, dinner parties are awesome. Duh.

The guest list was mostly non-vegans, some of whom had already experienced (and hopefully enjoyed) my cooking, others were quite skeptical. Also at the party was one vegetarian (Chris) and one other vegan (Mack). Oh, and Walt the cat. Though I will say, he was having none of this "party" nonsense. He's not big into crowds.

The (Vegan) Menu:

Rebecca's Bruschetta (wonderfully rustic and also Maltese)
Simple Green Salad
Eggplant Moussaka
Lima Bean Bake
Tabouli Salad
Israeli Couscous
Chocolate Cake with Buttercream Icing

Now, I should note that Jenn generously provided some non-vegan items for the guests who were hesitant to eat vegan food. However, as this is a vegan food blog, we'll skip over describing them. No hard feelings, Jenn.

Mmm... My plate. Let's take a look, clockwise from 12 o'clock: The lima bean bake, eggplant moussaka, tabouli salad, spanikopita, and Rebecca's bruschetta. And if you're wondering, I ate all of it. And it was awesome.

To break down this massive feast, I was thinking we go about the recipes separately. So to start, today I will tell you about one of my favorite dishes ever... TABOULI SALAD!

Here are a few good reasons to make tabouli. If you needed convincing:

1) If you've been reading this blog from the beginning, you'll know that one of my favorite ingredients ever is lemon. Lemon makes everything more delicious. Another favorite of mine is Italian flat-leaf parsley. Put them together with bulgur, olive oil, tomatoes, and green onion and whaddya get? Tabouli salad. And I am a happy girl. So if I like it, you might.

2) Tabouli is gloriously simple to concoct. When making it from scratch, you don't have to heat a thing. Just takes some chopping, soaking, and chilling. Or, chillin' if you prefer. Whichever.

3) It's ancient! Who can argue with a recipe that's centuries older than you? This recipe is older than your Grandma. Like, 4,000 years older. So hush up and make it.

Without further ado, Tabouli:

1 cup bulgur (cracked wheat, available in the international section of the grocery)
3 cups chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1 bundle (4 or 5) green onions (aka scallions), chopped
4 or 5 roma tomatoes (or whichever variety you prefer. obviously, compensate for size, though)
1/2 tsp allspice
juice of two lemons
3 tbsp good olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Rinse the bulgur in cold water a few times and drain. Soak it in a few cups worth cold water for about 20 minutes until it starts to soften. It will still be tough on the teeth at this point, so don't eat a spoonful or anything. It might hurt.

Prep your veggies and herbs to however you like them. Traditionally, you'd want the pieces to be smaller, but I sometimes prefer larger chunks of tomato and scallions (aka green onions) or whole leaves of parsley. Whatever you want. Yay for individuality!

Drain the bulgur in a sieve of some variety, or just do the best with your hands. Throw it in a mixing bowl and add the lemon juice, olive oil, allspice, mint, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix that up and add the tomatoes and scallions. Taste it for seasoning purposes, and adjust to your preference. I usually add more lemon juice, but we all know now that I'm biased.

Make sure everything's mixed thoroughly, then cover it with plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge for a few hours. This is really important, because the bulgur will soften further in the lemon juice. If you were to eat it immediately, it might still hurt your teeth. Just FYI.

This can be served over lettuce, or all by itself. It's also one of those recipes that you can do pretty much whatever you want with and it'll still taste good. You know, save adding anchovies or chocolate or something weird like that. Besides, then it wouldn't be vegan anymore, and who wants that? Right. So anyway, hope you like this easy, staple recipe. Maybe make it for your grandma. If she scoffs, just tell her it's 4,000 years old.

Well, friends, all in all I'd say the Veganversary party was a huge success. More recipes to follow. As well as the Veganversary Awards. Because there were a few people who deserved them. You'll see.

Happy eating!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Remi's Ratatouille

Happy Thursday!

Well, it's officially t-minus two days until my Veganversary. So, in preparation for the big party, I decided to test out some dishes I hadn't tried before in hopes to find a worthy candidate for my dinner table.

It's important to note that like most children, I absolutely loathed vegetables. At dinnertime, when my mom was pressing me to eat them, I used to put them in my mouth and then sneakily spit them right back out into my napkin. To this day, I have no idea how she never figured that one out (sorry, mom). The biggest offenders were squash and anything that looked like squash. To this day, a part of me still cringes at the thought of that smushy mess that called itself a vegetable. Blugh. However, as a vegan, I have begun to reevaluate my likes and dislikes within the produce section, and it seemed like time to revisit squash.

Another note I'd like to make is that I adore animated films. It helps that several of my closest friends are animators-- this way, I stay in the loop on what's worth seeing and what's not-so-much. One film you didn't need to be in the loop to know was wonderful is 2007's Ratatouille. This film succeeded on multiple levels (who knew people could identify with vermin?), including one very unexpected one-- it made me want to eat squash. That ratatouille that Remi makes looks simply divine. Since my first viewing, I've been dying to try it out.

And so, I was inspired to create ratatouille. Enjoy!

Remi's Ratatouille

1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1 1/2 cup tomato puree (I pureed my own, but you can certainly use canned)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 chinese eggplant (the thin ones)
1 zucchini squash
3 or 4 roma tomatoes (the thinner and longer the better)
Several sprigs fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

I got started by slicing my veggies. If you have a mandolin, this is going to be far simpler for you! Basically, the object of this game is to slice your squash, eggplant, and tomatoes as uniformly as possible into very thin slices. Ideally, you want 1/16" thickness, but in reality, do the best you can. Mine wound up to be about 1/4-1/8" thick. Still looked and tasted great. Set your lovely sliced vegetables aside when you're done, because it's time to prep the pan.

Pour the tomato puree into the bottom of the pan. Drop in the sliced garlic cloves, olive oil, and chopped onion, and stir the mixture up. Spread it out with a rubber spatula so it's spread uniformly across the bottom of the pan. Season this yumminess with salt and pepper generously. Or to your own preference. Whichever.

Atop your lovely tomato sauce arrange the prepared vegetables as shown below, concentrically from the outside to the center. Overlap each piece slightly, and alternate vegetables. If you have leftovers, lucky you. Nibble away.

Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the veggies and season again with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the thyme leaves over the dish.

Now, if you were fancy and more obsessive than I, you would add parchment paper at this step. I, however, did not have parchment paper, so I winged it and was pleased with my results. Do what you want, I won't judge.

Here's what I did:
Cover the dish with foil and bake in your oven for about 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until the veggies are golden brown and scrumptious-looking (see photo below).

Serve atop couscous, rice, bread, or a grain of your choice. Mmmmm....

For my ratatouille, I invited Susan and Rebecca over to help me eat. I served the dish with Israeli couscous (a larger version than your basic variety) and Veganomicon's pine nut cream. The pine nut cream served as a nice juxtaposition to the red sauce, and added an extra kick of garlic.

As a side, I whipped up some roasted potatoes with a lemon-dijon sauce. It's based on a weight watchers recipe. Here's the quick little recipe (as Susan requested):

2 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 tsp olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup soft tofu
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp Dijon mustard (I recommend going with a lighter mustard, our sauce turned out a little heavy on the dijon)
1/8 tsp table salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp black pepper, or to taste
White pepper.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Spread potatoes on a nonstick baking pan, sprinkle with oil and toss to coat. Roast potatoes 25 minutes. Add the garlic, toss and roast for 5 minutes more. This... smells... awesome!

Meanwhile, place tofu, lemon juice and mustard in your food processor or blender, and blend until smooth. Salt and (white) pepper this to taste.

At this point, you can either toss the two together to make it more of a salad, or you can serve them side-by-side so guests can choose how much sauce they fancy. I went with option #2.

So, with all these goodies, we had quite a spread! Add some wine, and it's a party (see below). :)

So. I still haven't decided whether or not to serve this dish at the Veganversary. Don't get me wrong-- it is outrageously delicious and beautiful. My only worry is that it's too thin and not filling enough to feed a crowd. We'll see.

Full coverage of the Veganversary next week!


Monday, March 2, 2009

decadent chocolate cake with floofy buttercream frosting

Let them eat cake!

That's what we said last week, when an office birthay party rolled around.

As a vegan, there's nothing worse than office birthdays when the cake isn't vegan. Everyone else is running around with delicious-looking slices of cake, and you're stuck at your desk with a soda or something. SAD. So when the awesome client services coordinator, Sierra, asked if I'd like to make the cake for February birthdays, I jumped at the chance! With our powers combined, we created the most lovely (and perhaps most pink) birthday cake I've seen in a long time. (ok, so maybe "lovely" is stretching it a bit, but BOY did it taste good.)

There's also another side story here that I feel inclined to note. My favorite pre-vegan restaurant is a place called the Alcove in Los Feliz. The food is nummy, the coffee is great, and the decor is precious. But above all else, the Alcove is home to the cake to end all cakes... See's chocolate candy cake with buttercream frosting. Just the name is giving me goosebumps. And as silly as it sounds, I often dream about the cake. It's one of the only non-vegan things I've craved. So, this also seemed like the perfect opportunity to re-ignite the love affair, and re-create my long lost love/cake.

The shape is perplexing, yes I know, but don't ask. It's not important.

Without further ado, my friends, a recipe for the vegan version of See's chocolate candy cake with buttercream frosting (pink food dye optional). Adapted from a few recipes in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

Ingredients for cake:
2 cups soy milk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups vegan granulated sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cups cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegan chocolate chips

Directions for cake:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and prepare cake pans by greasing with butter or cooking spray and sprinkling with flour.

Whisk together the soy milk and the vinegar in a big bowl and set aside for a minute or two to curdle (sounds gross, I know, but just go with it). Add the sugar, oil, and vanilla, and beat until foamy. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt). Add in two or three batches to the wet ingredients and beat until no large clumps remain. TASTE THE BATTER! Duh, you can't skip that step. It's vegan, too, so you don't have to worry about getting sick from raw eggs or anything like that. It's probably a good idea for you to lick the beaters from the mixer, too.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly throughout the pans, pushing them into the batter with a spatula so they gather in the middle. This way, you'll have ooey gooey yumminess in the middle of your slice.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean... when it doesn't hit a melted chocolate chip, of course.

While it's baking, begin the exciting journey to frosting-ville:

Ingredients for frosting:

3/4 cup vegan shortening (get the white kind for a purer look)
3/4 cup Earth Balance margarine
1 1/2 pounds confectioner's sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup soy creamer

Beat together the margarine and shortening on high until light & fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for at three minutes. Add the vanilla extract and soy creamer, and beat for 5 to 7 minutes. It's tempting to stop before, but the longer you let it whip, the floofier it becomes! And boy, do I like my frosting to be floofy. In case you're unaware, "floofy" is when something has trancended mere fluffiness and become absolutely, positively awesome. (Rebecca probably rolled her eyes, but yes I said it-- awesome!)

At this point, Sierra and I added food coloring to make the frosting pink (it was February, after all), but you could dye it another color, or leave it plain white, too. At the Alcove, their cake is a bundt covered in white frosting with melted chocolate and chocolate shavings all over it. If you're feeling industrious, go for it. Be creative!

Frost to your heart's content. And darling, eat your heart out!!

NOTE: Sometimes people think that just because it's vegan, it's good for you. Well, this cake ain't. And that's why it tastes so good. :)