Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Vegan Banana Bread Muffins


If you read my previous post, you will already know that my eldest child has proclaimed herself to be vegan.  And, if you read my previous post you will also know that this is a particular challenge to a woman who uses butter, eggs, and milk in her cooking on a regular basis.  It has only been two weeks, but I have to admit I am liking the vegan way.

The rest of us aren't going the full throttle like Madison.  I still eat my cereal every morning with skim milk.  I had a piece of bacon with my french toast today.  I ate a ridiculous amount of spinach artichoke dip during the Super Bowl.  However, as a family we have made some big changes over these past two weeks and so far no one has been disappointed.

For me, the challenge was making new dishes that pleased the masses and tweaking some of our old favorites to make them vegan.  Guess what? I love a challenge.  Plus, I was in kind of a rut with finding new recipes, and this was exactly the sort of inspiration I needed to try new things and buy new cookbooks.  It also doesn't hurt that this vegan lifestyle is fantastic.  I am not sluggish and bloated.  My skin is clear.  I don't know if it's all in my head, but I really am feeling great these days.  The only change I've made is in the food choices.  Coincidence? We will see over time.

One of the main things I wanted to do for Madison was to take some of my family favorites and make them vegan.  I feel bad that she is missing out on some of her favorite treats.  I've learned quite a bit about substitutions, alternative ingredients, etc. over the last two weeks. My preconceived notions about vegan baked goods were dense muffins or cookies whose flavor was overpowered by flax seed and bran.  The more I read, however, the more I realized that vegan baked goods aren't that different from the non-vegan versions.  Like all baked goods, they need oil, a binding agent, and liquid.  There are so many choices out there to make this happen.  Playing around with the flavors and amounts are the more challenging aspects of the vegan conversion.

My first attempt to "veganize" a recipe was the good old banana bread muffin.  Now, I do absolutely love the version I grew up with.  My entire family loves this version.  My friends love this version.  Until this vegan thing, I never even attempted to make another banana bread recipe simply because this one is that good.  Why go anywhere else?

Sitting on my counter were three bananas that were two shades past ripe.  They were ready.  I was ready.  I wanted to make banana bread muffins.  I needed to.  They were calling my name.  So, I sat there looking at these bananas and smelling them from a distance because they were so ready to be baked that there really wasn't a safe distance from them.  Then, I decided what better way to try out my new vegan knowledge than to make a muffin.  The kids were home from school and why not see what my guinea pigs thought. They're always fair game.

Making the changes actually wasn't that difficult.  My biggest fear was how the muffins would turn out without the beloved butter, sour milk, and eggs.  The absence of eggs scared me the most because my original recipe even calls for the egg whites to be whipped and then folded in at the end to yield a fluffier muffin.  The vegan version: no eggs at all.  The end result: they weren't even missed.  Instead of the butter, I knew I had to compensate for its absence with an oil.  I chose grapeseed oil, which has become one of my new favorite oils over the past year.  It's not a heavy oil.  My reason it has become my go-to is because it is practically flavorless.  Canola oil has way too strong a flavor, in my opinion.  Olive oil is perfect in cooking but I'm not a big fan of it in baking unless it is a featured ingredient.  Vegetable oil is nice but a little too heavy.  For these muffins, I chose the grapeseed and, it was the right choice.  For the liquid, I chose soy milk.  I could have opted for almond milk or coconut milk, but I wanted to keep the flavors simple and let the bananas be the star of this muffin.

The results?  Overwhelming success.  The muffins turned out better than I expected.  They weren't dense at all.  They also weren't crumbly.  The texture was even better than my non-vegan version, holding together while at the same time yielding a soft and pillowy texture.  A muffin miracle.  The youngest taste tester proclaimed them to be the best muffins I've ever made and was stopped after eating three muffins in one afternoon (he was in the process of shoving a 4th muffin in his mouth when he was stopped).  The middle taste tester proclaimed these muffins to be so good he couldn't stop thinking about them.  And, the eldest taste tester said in her usual teenage demeanor: "Yeah," shrug of the shoulder, "they're pretty good."  I then noticed she ate two yesterday and two more this morning.  I think she liked them.

Even if you aren't vegan, go ahead and give these muffins a try.  I'm not sure how much healthier they are than most banana bread muffins but they've got to be somewhat healthier without the eggs and the butter.  If you are vegan, remember to use organic cane sugar and unbleached all-purpose flour.




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Vegan Banana Bread Muffins
Whether or not you're vegan, you will love this alternative recipe for banana bread muffins. Light and fluffy, they will melt in your mouth.
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup Organic brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup Organic cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup Grapeseed Oil
  • 3 Ripe bananas
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (I prefer King Arthur)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup regular soy milk, unflavored
  • for sprinkling (optional) turbinado sugar
Instructions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a muffin pan with cooking spray and set aside.In a medium bowl, combine the soda, baking powder, salt, and flour. Whisk to combine and set aside.In a mixing bowl, combine the brown and white sugars with the grapeseed oil. Mix on medium speed for two minutes, letting the sugar dissolve. Add in the three peeled bananas and continue mixing for another minute or until the bananas have combined.Turn the mixer down to low and add in 1/3 of the flour mixture. As soon as the flour has been mixed in, add 1/2 of the soy milk. Alternate with the flour mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.Fill the muffin tins halfway full. If desired, sprinkle turbinado sugar on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until the tops are brown. Cooking times may vary based on your oven.
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 16 muffins

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Soft Pretzels


A new challenge has hit me as the head chef in my kitchen during Snowzilla:  my vegetarian has now decided she wants to be vegan.  Vegan! Vegetarian, no problem.  As a family, we actually found it easy to adjust to her lifestyle change when we were only talking about cutting meat out of her diet.  We still ate meat, but a lot less of it.  I had successfully worked around Madison's decision back then.  However, she was determined to do more and it wasn't necessarily for any social issue. Instead, it was mostly for herself.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Kinship



Call me lucky but that's exactly how I felt when Gary and I were invited to dine at Eric Ziebold's and Celia Laurent's new restaurant, Kinship, in Washington, DC.  The much anticipated opening of Kinship took place in January 2016.  I say much anticipated because the Mid-Atlantic's Best Chef according to the 2008 James Beard Awards had wowed the area with CityZen and then closed its doors while we waited and waited for what he would bring next.  Well, if you ask little ole me, it was worth the wait.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Brunswick Stew

Brunswick Stew from Food Therapy
One of my favorite stews to make during the cold days of January is a classic Southern favorite:  Brunswick Stew.  There's a reason you see it on the menu in most BBQ stops in the Deep South:  it's the perfect stew when you have an abundance of leftovers.  This is especially true when those leftovers tend to have begun their existence as barbecue.  I like to think of it as the Deep South's version of the Maryland She-Crab Soup.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

It's a New Year


It's a New Year, and I'm all about a new me.  I shouldn't say "a new me" exactly.  This year I've made a commitment to myself to get back to the old me.  I kind of liked her.

It all began with a little epiphany I had over the holidays.  The day after Christmas, we woke our weary heads and headed out on a plane at 6am to visit my mom and brother's family in Florida for a post-Christmas visit.  I do not like flying.  In fact, the build-up to getting on that plane leads me to so much anxiety the week before that by the night before take-off I am speaking to no one, in a mind trance, and fight my mind to get some sleep.