Valentine’s Day Nachos (but not really)

I received a request from a friend to do a Valentine’s Day themed blog post; something romantic or sweet that reflected the spirit of the holiday.  I thought about what Valentine’s Day means to the people I care about and how they might enjoy celebrating.

So here it is, Nachos for One.

Nah, not really.  That’s more bleak than I care to be.

I normally wouldn’t give a crap about Valentine’s Day, but what the hell, it’s not a terrible day outside; I’m on an upswing from a string of several stressful days, and I’ve got the Ethiopians playing in the background.  Time to bust out some sweetheart recipe.

Sweet Potato Banana Bread

This quick bread is fairly healthy and pretty simple to make, although I would have let mine sit in the oven for a bit longer so it fluffed up properly.  You will need:

  • 1 small sweet potato (about a cup’s worth), mashed
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 eggs (I didn’t have enough, but you can use ¼ cup of applesauce for each egg, so ½ cup for this recipe)
  • ¼ cup of vegetable oil
  • 1 cup of flour (I used half all-purpose and half whole wheat)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon of baking powder
  • ½ cup of sugar (which I replaced with ¼ cup of agave nectar
  • A hand full of dark chocolate chips (I used about 1/3 cup)

Yield: 1 loaf

So, preheat your oven to 350°F.  Mash the bananas while you prepare your sweet potato.  I just put min in the microwave for about six minutes and let it cool enough to handle.  In a large bowl, blend together your bananas, sweet potato, eggs (or egg replacers), sugar, and oil.  Mix until it’s well incorporated.

In a smaller bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon.  Combine them well, and then stir it into the bowl with the banana-sweet potato mixture.  Fold in the chocolate chips.

  

Lightly grease a baking pan (I used an 8×8, but you can use a loaf pan if you prefer).  Add your batter and place in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until you can remove a toothpick cleanly.

This isn’t exactly what you might consider typical Valentine’s fare, but I think most typical Valentine’s fare sucks.  There is only so much candy you can eat (or should eat); those little hearts are chalky and it eludes me why we still buy them if general consensus is that they’re awful (although I have the same question about fruitcake around Christmas); and big, romantic dinners tend to be heavy on the meat, fat, and cholesterol.  This bread is sweet, and the bananas and sweet potatoes are actually heart-healthy foods, which seems more appropriate for this kind of holiday.  And if you’re worried that it doesn’t quite seem to fit the Valentine’s Day bill, here’s how I presented it to my sweetheart:

(The food on this blog won’t kill you, but you might get diabetes from how sappy I can get)

Happy Valentine’s Day to you!

(yes, you!)

In Baltimore, this would be called “Duhry-Free” (Banana Ice Cream)

Maybe you’re a vegan and you don’t eat any animal products.  Maybe you’re lactose intolerant and have a hard time digesting dairy.  Maybe you had an uncomfortable experience with the guy who drives the ice cream that comes around your neighborhood and just lost the taste for soft serve ice cream.

Hey, we’ve all been there.  Luckily, you don’t have to be any of the above to enjoy this recipe.  It’s quick, it fits a wide range of diets, and it’s super healthy.

An interesting thing about bananas: I used to not eat them.  Seriously, since I was maybe five until this past summer, I wouldn’t eat straight bananas.  I would eat food that was made with bananas (banana bread, banana pancakes, etc.) but I had a hard time getting around the texture.  This past summer, I decided to bite the bullet (I was going to say ‘bite the banana’, but you jerks wouldn’t let that one go).  I was surprised.  Really surprised.

I stopped eating bananas after that for several months because they gave me an AWFUL case of the runs, but I felt proud in getting past a bizarre phobia.

When I started getting back into exercising regularly, and especially after starting my new job, I decided that it would be worth trying bananas again.  Turns out, they’ve been a great addition to my diet (with no side effects).  Just about every workout blog or fitness website will recommend adding bananas to your diet, either as a handfruit or part of a shake.  Bananas are an excellent source of potassium and dietary fiber, which help lower the risk of high blood pressure, hypertension, and heart disease.  Potassium also helps reduce bone thinning from urinary calcium loss.  Bananas also provide a strong level of vitamin B6 and a moderate level of vitamin C, B2, and foliate.  Bananas also have carbohydrates that are converted to sugars during digestion and then transferred throughout your bloodstream to provide energy to the rest of your system; eating a banana an hour or so before a workout provides a good powerhouse of energy without needed to eat a big meal (bananas are a great post-workout recovery snack, too).

Using bananas as the base for dairy-free ice cream is a fun way to get the benefits of the fruit.  Plus, this is a dessert you can eat at any time of day, and who doesn’t want ice cream in the morning, sometimes?

You will need:

  • 2 ripe medium bananas, peeled
  • 2-3 tablespoons of your favorite creamy nut butter (I used almond here)
  • Honey (if honey is not part of your veganism, feel free to use maple syrup or agave nectar

Yield: 1serving

Cut the peeled bananas into coins and space them out onto a baking tray.  Put the tray into  the freezer for 1-1½ hours.  They should be firm but not frozen solid.

Mash the bananas until they reach a texture similar to custard or pudding.  I didn’t have a blender so I used a potato masher and a fork, which was fine.

When the bananas are well blended, mix in the nut butter and honey well, until everything is uniform.  I added no measurements to the sweetener because I didn’t bother measuring it when I tried this out the first time; a few teaspoons or a healthy squirt from the bottle is a good rough measurement.  Place the mixture in a freezer-safe container and let it sit maybe 30-40 minutes.  Remove and enjoy.  If the mixture starts to go soft, simply refreeze for a few minutes and continue eating.

*note: “Healthy Squirt” is a good or awful band name.

This is just one approach to banana ice cream; feel free to experiment with other ingredients.  Try seasonal berries, nut butter and a trickle of jam, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, fresh coconut and com pureed canned pineapple…you’re really only limited by your imagination.  Please keep in mind that the banana taste is not terribly over-powering, it’s still there, so something like mint or coffee might not pair as well.  Try this next time you’re entertaining some vegan guests, or as a refreshing breakfast treat in the summer.

Turnip and Lentil Pierogi

Today’s writing music

My inspiration for cooking usually stems from one of three sources:

  1. Staples, or what can I make that can serve as several meals in a week (legumes, soup, biscuits, etc)
  2.  Adding personal spin to recipes that I come across, such as substituting ingredients (I’m loath to call this “improving on recipes”)
  3. Necessity, or that moment when you think “how the crap am I going to pull this off?”

In this case, the Turnip and Lentil Pierogi sort of covered all three reasons.  I had bought turnip roots at the farmer’s market a few days before I started even thinking about this recipe.  I usually oven roast turnips and other root vegetables and then maybe toss them with some balsamic vinegar, but this was becoming very boring, and when food items become boring I tend to not want to eat them for a while.  It’s time to break this bad habit.

If you’re tired of eating potatoes throughout the winter, turnip roots are a fun additive.  They’re not as starchy as other roots and tubers, and turnips can be eaten both raw and cooked.  The turnip root isn’t very nutritionally or calorically dense, but it does contain Vitamin C, which is great for the winter months when everyone around you seems to be sneezing their brains out.  The roots have a somewhat bitter tanginess to them, but that tends to dissipate somewhat when they are cooked (I happen to enjoy their flavor).  The greens of the turnip are really healthy, and they can be prepared as you would cook mustard greens or collards.

I thought that this would be a good opportunity to unload some of the turnips I had at my disposal, as well as lentils that were just sitting in my cupboard.  Here was my ingredient breakdown:

Fillings

  • 2 large turnips, peeled
  • ½ cup of dried red lentils
  • 1 cup of water, for cooking the lentils
  • 1 sweet vidalia onion, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

Dough

  • 1½ cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups of whole wheat flour*
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used canola)
  • 1 cup of water, plus some extra to keep your fingers damp while folding
  • *for ease, I combined the two types of dry flour in a medium sized bowl before making the dough

Topping

  • 2 yellow onions, peeled and cut into slices

Yields about 30 pierogi

Filling

Cut the turnips in half and then into slices or small chunks (it doesn’t matter), and place in a steam basket.  Place the basket in a pot with maybe an inch of water. Bring the water to a boil and steam the turnips until the flesh is soft, maybe 10-15 minutes.  Alternatively, you can just boil the turnip, I just prefer steaming.  While the turnips are cooking, prepare the lentils in the two cups of water.  Cook them until they are very soft, enough where they might not need much handling to turn into a mashed consistency.  Warm up the vegetable oil over medium heat and cook the Vidalia onion until it becomes translucent and fragrant.  Take care to not burn the onion.

Add about half of the cooked onion to the cooked turnips in a bowl.  Using a potato masher or a fork, mash the steamed turnips until they are the consistency of mashed potatoes.  Turnips hold a lot more liquid then a potato, so your filling will look a little watery.  Add some flour to the mixture one tablespoon as a time until the concoction is relatively uniform and not very watery.  Apply the same method to the lentils and remaining cooked onion.  At this point, I placed both fillings in separate containers and put them in the fridge for a day or two.  This is not mandatory, but I was pressed for time and ended up making the actual dish later that week.  If they are a little watery when you eventually make the pierogi, feel free to add a teaspoon or two of flour and remix.

                    

To make the dough

Mix the cup of water and the oil in a large bowl, and add two cups of the flour one half-cup at a time.  Mix well with a wooden spoon until the dough is sticky and not dribbling with liquid.  Sprinkle a wooden cutting board or countertop (either or is fine) with a few pinches of the reserved flour and lay your dough out.  Knead the dough while adding the reserved flour a handful at a time.  Keep kneading until the dough becomes a smooth, elastic mass that is no longer sticky, but not dry and crumbly.  You will have some reserved flour left over at this point, but this is alright; it will come in handy later.  Once the dough is ready, let it rest for a few minutes.  During this time, Fill the largest pot you have with cold water and bring it to a boil.  By the time you’re pierogi are stuffed and ready to go, the water should be near boiling.

Now, onto cutting your dumplings.  Using a rolling pin, flatten out your dough.  Roll out the dough so that is it thin, but not so thin that it will tear when it is stuffed, maybe 1/8 of an inch or thinner.  To cut your circles, use the top of a drinking glass that measures between 3-4 inches in diameter; this is the ideal size.  To keep the cut outs from sticking to each other and to the plate I put them on, I dusted each with some of the reserved flour on both sides, and put a piece of paper towel between each layer of dumplings.

Spoon about a tablespoon of the fillings into each dumpling, or a little less if they are smaller.  Basically, you want enough filling that your pierogi will not be very doughy, but not so much that they will burst when they are folded.  Dampen your finger tips with some of the reserved water and fold the wrapper in half over your filling.  Crimp the edges or, like I ended up doing for a bunch of them, fold the edges sleeping bag style over itself.  A couple of them might leak or tear, but try to patch those breaks with a little extra flour, or by pinching burst edges.  You can mix the fillings or enjoy them separately.

Using a slotted spoon or a pair of tongs, slowly add the pierogi one at a time to the boiling water, up to six at a time.  The pierogi will need to boil for about three to four minutes, but will usually float to the surface of the pot when they are ready.  Simply take them out and let them cool for a few minutes.  Dab lightly with a paper towel if they are damp.  While these are boiling, sauté the yellow onion slices in some vegetable oil to top your final product.  There is no right way to serve these, so I ended up dropping each finished and dried pierogi into a bowl and smothering them with the onions.  After that, there wasn’t much more to do other than invite my partner over and devour these.

The first time I did this, a few of my dumplings were slightly thicker that I would have wanted, but this ultimately did not kill the pierogi; they just had a more wonton-like texture to them.  The few my partner and I didn’t devour made for good filling lunches the next couple of days.  Overall, I’m pretty proud of how this recipe turned out.  These are great potluck items, or an accompaniment to a Sunday brunch with some scrambled eggs and sautéed greens.  I didn’t realize this until I actually took stock of my ingredients, but these are also a fun vegan treat.

I’d like to give a shout out to Post Punk Kitchen for inspiring this recipe, especially how to make the dough.

Chewy Snacks for Crunchy People (Vegan Oatmeal Breakfast Bars)

I started a new job as a contractor a couple of weeks ago.  That means I’m out of the house early in the morning and in the field most of the day, so I usually am eating a cold lunch or going for a sandwich with the other crew members.  These oatmeal bars are great for when I’m on the job; they can be a quick breakfast or a filling, protein-packed snack during the middle of the day.  The walnuts, apple, and oatmeal provide some lasting energy, and the flax seed add a healthy dose of dietary fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.  I recommend these for vegan-friendly potlucks, folks with a busy workday and poor vending machine options, and people who are hitting the gym at some point in the day.

I’m not a vegan.  I’ve gone through vegan/“vaugan” periods over the last few years, but I haven’t made the change to full-time, and I’m not sure that I ever will.  However, I believe it’s always a good idea to know a few recipes that are vegan-friendly (or ways you can substitute ingredients to make something vegan) should you ever need to take someone’s dietary preferences into consideration.

You will need:

  • 2 cups quick oatmeal
  • ¾ cup soy or almond milk
  • I apple, grated (I used a Granny Smith because it was the firmest I had at the time)
  • ¼ cup brown sugar (I substituted this with a little less than ¼ cup agave nectar)
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ~½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • Flax seeds (optional; I had a few tablespoons left and decided to add them)
  • 2-3 tablespoons shredded, unsweetened coconut (optional)
  • Oil for greasing the pan

Yield: Around 9 bars (depending on size)

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Reserving the apples (and agave if you’re using it), mix together all of the dry ingredients.  Add the apples a small amount at a time, followed by the milk and combine will.  My mixture looked a little like this:

Grease a baking pan (8”x8” to 10”x10” works, but you’re not restricted to this) with some oil and spread the mixture evenly.  Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes, then remove and let cool.  Cut the mixture into bars or squares, and enjoy.  These are great cold, room temperature, or warm; I like to stick them in the toaster oven for a few minutes when I have the chance.

This is my third attempt at making these bars, and I think these are the best yet.  The first time I omitted the sugar and used bittersweet chocolate chips; the flavor combination wasn’t bad but the chocolate remained melted and made for messier eating.  The second attempt I substituted the apple for a few finely shredded carrots and once again didn’t add sugar.  These were pretty bland and didn’t make for great eating.  This newest version remains moist but not soggy, and has texture somewhat reminiscent of apple cake.  Overall, I’m very satisfied with this version.

*Side note

I did a little research, and while oatmeal might be considered gluten-free, it often gets cross-contaminated by wheat.  I’m honestly not sure if there is a way to make this gluten-free except to find oatmeal that is labeled as such.  If I find out more information I will post this, but feel free to comment and contribute.