Saturday, June 30, 2012

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Everyone likes banana bread, right? And it's a damn good thing, because we always seem to have too many bananas, which means that a few are destined to go "past their prime" and end up in a loaf or two (with the occasional batch of muffins or pancakes to shake things up). This variation uses chocolate chips instead of the traditional raisins and/or walnuts, for a "dessertier" bread that packs much less sugar and fat than a lot of similar recipes. So instead of the chocolate cake - filled with sugar and butter and eggs and lord knows what - proffered by the well-meaning but misguided lady pictured above, spread a little peanut butter on a slice of this banana-ey goodness, for a Perfectly Healthy way to eat chocolate for breakfast! (Please note that this recipe also makes excellent muffins; just reduce the cooking time to 20-25 minutes.)

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
~ 1 cup plain, unsweetened soy (or other non-dairy) milk
~ 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
~ 1 tbsp. ground flaxseed
~ ¼ cup canola oil or applesauce (or a 50/50 combination)
~ ¼ cup maple syrup
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
~ 3-4 very ripe bananas, mashed
~ 2.5 cups all purpose flour
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ ½ tsp. each: baking soda, cinnamon, salt
~ ¼ tsp. each: nutmeg, ginger
~ ¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit, and coat a bread pan with cooking spray.
~ Whisk together the milk, apple cider vinegar, and flaxseed and allow to rest for five minutes. Add the oil and/or applesauce, maple syrup, and vanilla extract, then stir in the mashed bananas and mix thoroughly.
~ In a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (flour through nutmeg), until thoroughly combined. 
~ Add the chocolate chips and toss to coat with the flour mixture.
~ Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, and add the wet ingredients.
~ Combine thoroughly and spoon the batter into the prepared bread pan.
~ Bake at 375 degrees for about 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (every oven is different; mine tends to be slow, so your mileage may vary).
~ Allow to cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before slicing. This bread is delicious warm, at room temperature, or (carefully) toasted the next day, if it lasts that long.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Old School Potato Salad

This past week, we've been subjected to the sort of brief but intense heat wave that saps every ounce of a reasonable person's physical, mental, and emotional energy, leaving one - by which I mean me - a limp, cranky rag doll who can only cower in the AC and wait for it to be over. 

Needless to say, this state of affairs can put a serious damper on kitchen activity, but the unfortunate fact is that people persist in getting hungry despite the uncivilized temperatures. At times like these, I take a leaf from my mother's book, which held that the wisest course is to get up very early, "before it gets too hot," and whip up a ginormous vat of some cold collation that could be kept in the refrigerator and eaten later. This was usually some variety of "salad" (tuna, pasta, or potato), to be eked out at dinnertime by a big bowl of lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers, and possibly something cooked on the grill; these dishes also made regular appearances at picnics, cook-outs, etc. 

So yesterday morning I decided to have a go at approximating that old-school potato salad, and I herewith present the results. It's not fancy or innovative, and it certainly has no pretensions to be one of those upscale reimaginings of old-fashioned dishes that pop up in blogs and food magazines this time of year. This is just a super-simple, utilitarian, family-friendly workhorse of a summer staple. Make a big batch in the morning, and when late afternoon rolls around, voila: you have the perfect accompaniment for veggie burgers and/or dogs and some fresh, crispy greens. 

Old School Potato Salad
~ 6-8 large potatoes (I used Yukon Golds), cut into approximately 2" cubes
~ 1 small onion, diced
~ 1 large stalk celery, diced
~ 1 small bell pepper, diced (any color will do, but red is pretty)
~ 3/4 cup Vegenaise (more or less)
~ 1 tbsp. prepared mustard
~ 1 tsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, dill, dried parsley
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 1/4 cup fresh, finely chopped parsley

~ Boil a large pot of salted water, and cook the potatoes until done but not falling apart (test them with a fork after about 10 minutes).
~ Optional, if you don't like raw onion (or it doesn't like you): place the chopped onion in a small dish with a few tablespoons of water and microwave for 2 minutes. Rinse with cold water and set aside.
~ Drain the potatoes and rinse with cold water to stop further cooking; set aside.
~ In a large bowl, combine the Vegenaise, mustard, Worcester sauce, and dried spices, and mix thoroughly.
~ Stir in the drained potatoes, onion, celery, bell paper, and fresh parsley, and mix until everything is coated with the dressing. Taste for seasoning, then cover and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours before serving cold.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Linguine with Basil and Spinach Pesto

This is a 100% failsafe, universally popular dish at my house, often served as an accompaniment to eggplant parmesan (probably the biggest cheater-face recipe in my repertoire). It's basically your straightforward basil and pine nut pesto, with the addition of thawed, frozen spinach - you could use fresh, but you'd probably need to add more liquid - which makes for a lovely green color while adding some extra iron and other good stuff. It's delicious on linguine or other pasta, but also very nice on polenta and/or steamed or roasted veggies. Best of all: for something that literally comes together in minutes, it has the remarkable ability to make everybody happy!

Linguine Basil and Spinach Pesto
~ 2 packed cups chopped, fresh basil
~ 1/2 lb. frozen spinach, thawed
~ 3-4 tbsp. minced garlic (be bold!)
~ 1/4 cup olive oil
~ 3/4 cup pine nuts
~ 1/3 cup nutritional yeast, vegan parmesan substitute, or a combination
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, oregano
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ 1/4-1/3 cup reserved pasta water, as necessary
~ 1 lb. linguine (or other pasta), cooked and drained according to package directions

~ Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain, and set aside, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
~ In a skillet, gently toast the pine nuts until they are golden and giving off a nutty, toasty aroma. Remove from heat and set 1/4 cup of them aside.
~ In a blender or food processor, combine basil, spinach, garlic, olive oil, the remaining pine nuts,  nooch or parmesan, and seasonings. Puree until you have a smooth, green paste, adding a bit of the pasta water if necessary to achieve the texture you want.
~ Adjust for seasonings, and toss the pesto with the cooked, drained pasta. Stir in the reserved 1/4 cup pine nuts, and serve. This recipe is equally good served hot or at room temperature.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Pasta Sapore Piccante

Welcome to another of my quixotic flights of culinary fancy! This time it's an animal-free adaptation of an Italian casserole called Pasta Sapore Piccante. The prototype is a veritable fatfest featuring butter, cream, Italian sausage, and enough cheese to virtually guarantee significant coronary fireworks: just the sort thing that cries out - well, to me anyway - to be veganized. Aside from removing the blood, guts, and various effluvia, I reduced the overall fat, increased the pasta:sausage ratio, and added mushrooms, tomatoes, and garlic to make things a bit more interesting. The result is a dish that is filling, but surprisingly un-gutbomby. Add a salad and/or green vegetable (we had roasted broccoli) et voila: dinner is served!

Pasta Sapore Piccante  
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil 
~ 2 Italian flavor veggie sausages, diced
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
~ 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
~ 1 tsp. Liquid Smoke
~ 2 tsp. dried sage
~ 1 tsp each: salt, oregano
~ ½ tsp. red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper
~  Dash nutmeg
~ 1 cup soy creamer
~ 1 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1/2 cup vegan Parmesan or nutritional yeast
~ 2 cups shredded vegan cheese (I used 50/50 cheddar and mozzarella Daiya)
~ 1 14 oz. can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
~ 1 lb. penne rigate pasta

~ Preheat oven to 375° and coat a large casserole with cooking spray.
~ In a large skillet, sauté the sausage in 1 tbsp. of the olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove to a plate and set aside.
~ Add the remaining oil to the skillet; sauté the garlic and bell pepper for about 2 minutes before adding the mushrooms, Liquid Smoke, sage, salt, pepper flakes, nutmeg, and black pepper. Continue cooking for 5 minutes, until softened.
~ Stir in the creamer, and bring to a simmer; gradually add the Parmesan and other cheeses, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.
~ Add the reserved sausage and the drained tomatoes; stir to combine.
~ Cook the pasta until al dente and drained according to package directions, reserving about a cup of the cooking water.
~ Mix thoroughly with the cooked, drained penne (adding as much of the reserved cooking water as you need to keep things from sticking), and transfer to your eagerly waiting casserole.
~ Bake uncovered at 375° for 15-20 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown and bubbly brown on top.
~ Allow to rest briefly (about 10 minutes) before serving.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Roasted Cauliflower Pie

"You will make a Saturday pie of all parties' opinions, and be pelted by everybody."

So says Mrs Cadwallader in Middlemarch, by way of warning Mr Brooke not to vote as an "independent man," but in support of what she considers "the right party." Mrs Cadwallader is wary of mixing and matching political opinions, preferring that her representatives toe the straight conservative line. Despite that estimable lady's advice, I'm bound to say that the thinking voter should cling to as independent a frame of mind as possible, if only to maintain some degree of sanity. This is especially true in such a vexed election year (and I'm astonished to realize that this blog began just about four years ago, smack in the middle of the last one), and if that means running the risk of being "pelted by everybody," so be it.

"But what does any of this have to do with cauliflower, or with pie?" you ask. Well, for one thing, it's Saturday! And as you may have inferred from Mrs Cadwallader's use of the term, a "Saturday pie" is basically miscellaneous bits and pieces (usually leftovers) mixed together, put into a crust and baked; shepherd's and cottage pies have their roots in the same tradition. Personally, I love savory pies, and make them often; in fact, I'd be perfectly content to be pelted with them whenever and wherever the opportunity might present itself. I've been toying with the idea of making one with cauliflower for awhile, and initially entertained a vague intention of veganizing the Cauliflower Cheese Pie from Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook (a seminal text in my vegetarian adolescence). I ultimately decided that the vibe I wanted in this instance was less "earnest hippie" than "cozy pub grub," and that's very much what this recipe evokes. 

Cauliflower gets a bad rap as broccoli's pale, boring cousin, but that's because it's so frequently boiled or steamed to a bland, unappetizing mush. The simple fact is that nothing brings out cauliflower's sometimes-elusive yumminess like roasting, which reveals a nutty sweetness that broccoli only wishes it could achieve. So, even though my lovely white florets were destined to be baked in a pastry crust with a bunch of other stuff, I decided to roast it first, with excellent results. With some mashed sweet potatoes and creamed spinach on the side, this made a nice, comfort-foodie weekend dinner, and provided leftovers for the next day as well. I should note that this recipe is for two (single crust) pies, because there's no point in making one of anything around here. But if you're cooking for fewer people, or have some weird objection to leftovers, just go ahead and halve the quantities. Either way, you can expect to be pelted with praise!

Roasted Cauliflower Pie
The Filling
~ 2 large potatoes, cooked until soft and roughly mashed (you still want some texture) 
~ 1 big head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, diced
~ 1 cup chopped mushrooms (this was about 6 big baby bellas, but whatever)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, sage, marjoram, paprika
~ 2 pie crusts (homemade or store-bought)

~ Preheat oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and arrange the chopped cauliflower in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and coat with an additional squirt of cooking spray. Roast for 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until browned but not blackened. Remove from oven and set aside.
~ In a large, deep skillet, sauté the onions in the olive oil over medium heat for about 3 minutes, until softened.
~ Add the chopped mushrooms and seasonings, and cook another five minutes.
~ Stir in the roasted cauliflower and the mashed potato, combine thoroughly, and set aside while you make...

The Sauce
~ 1 tbsp. vegan margarine (I like Earth Balance)
~ 1 tsp. each: minced garlic, prepared mustard, vegetarian Worcestershire sauce, Marmite (optional, but do it)
~ 2 tbsp. all purpose flour
~ 1/4 tsp. turmeric, for color
~ 2.5 cups plain, unsweetened soymilk
~ 1 cup nutritional yeast

~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine over low heat. Add the garlic, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and Marmite, and cook for about a minute.
~  Add the flour and the dry seasonings, and stir to make a roux
~ Begin stirring in the soy milk, and then gradually add the nutritional yeast.
~ Continue cooking, whisking continually to prevent lumps.
~ When all the milk and nooch has been added and everything is smooth and lovely, cook the sauce for about 5 minutes longer, and then add to the filling mixture. Set aside to cool briefly.
Add the sauce to the vegetable mixture, combine thoroughly, and pour into prepared pie-crusts.
~Sprinkle on a little extra paprika and/or parsley for garnish, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is browned and the filling is relatively solid, it will set up more as it cools.
~Allow to rest for about 15-20 minutes before slicing.