Cherry-Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

My local greengrocers sells bags of roughly a dozen bananas for a pound. They’re the strays that have fallen off other bunches, or the green ones that people have rejected, or the slightly smaller but still perfectly acceptable ones. I eat a lot of bananas, not particularly because I love the taste of bananas but because they are powerhouses of nutrition and lend themselves well to all kinds of things, like smoothies, vegan ice cream and baking.

The first time I made banana bread I followed this BBC Good Food recipe to the letter. I didn’t add the optional extras, and the end result was tasty enough that the loaf disappeared in two days (with the willing assistance of my brother), but I felt it was lacking something. My first thought was raisins, but when I browsed the shelves in my local Tesco Express I was put off by the cost of a big bag of raisins and instead plumped for a much smaller, more manageably-priced tub of glace cherries and a bag of dark chocolate chips.

ImageMaking the bread was so easy with my Kitchen Aid that I made another loaf a couple of days later, but this time I upped the banana count to four, left them slightly less well mashed, added in a handful of cherries and poured in chocolate chips until I thought it looked about right. There’s no science behind this step – but another time I think I’ll probably add more of both! I also reduced the cooking time and temperature: the first twenty minutes were as instructed, but then I turned the oven down to about 170 degrees, covered the loaf pan with foil and left it in for about another thirty minutes. Basically bake until a knife comes out clean, like any cake.

The end result was even nicer; the extra banana added moisture and additional flavour while the cherries and chocolate gave an interesting texture and more tastes. It isn’t exactly health food but it’s not a dreadfully unhealthy treat – 100g of sugar in the entire loaf, which I would say should do at least ten slices and probably more if you cut them small and manage to resist going back for more! It’s certainly better than eating an entire packet of ginger biscuits, which I have been known to do…

The Best Burgers Ever

No exaggeration, these are the best burgers I have ever eaten. I was blown away by how well they worked out, and thrilled that they made so many servings that I could have left overs three times. My friend KT, who helped me make and eat dinner with equal levels of enthusiasm, also agreed that they were spectacular. Bulgur wheat impulse buy, you were an excellent decision.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. The story starts months ago, in the community shop which has since closed. I must have been swept away on a cloud of optimism about my culinary skills because I bought a large quantity of a product I had never used before, never eaten, never even heard of: bulgur wheat. I took it home, put it into a glass jar, stuck the jar in the cupboard and immediately forgot what it was.

ImageFast-forward to last week, and I found myself clearing out the cupboards in anticipation of my imminent move (for more details, see my life blog). The jar of mystery grain-like substance perplexed me for several minutes until my blundering around Wikipedia led me to an article on bulgur and a lightbulb went off in my brain. Like a good little child of the 90s I immediately googled for a recipe.

As regular readers (do I still have any of those?) will know, I don’t like recipes with extensive or exotic ingredient lists. In particular, when I’m about to move house, I don’t want to be buying things I won’t necessarily use again for months. So I was pleased to find this recipe on Epicurius. I had everything I needed to make the burgers – I decided not to bother with the lime mayonnaise – and it looked straightforward. Naturally I switched out some things; I used kidney beans instead of pinto, ditched the cilantro, used curry powder instead of cumin (I’d packed the cumin, for some reason) and didn’t add any salt as KT and I both felt the soy sauce was salty enough. We also threw in a couple of mushrooms, because mushroom burgers are probably the best thing ever.

ImageMy goodness, they were delicious. I will definitely be making these again! The only thing I’ll do differently is chop things more finely, because my blender wasn’t really up to the challenge of pulsing walnuts and the chunks of mushroom and onion had a tendency to escape in the pan. But they held together really well, browned beautifully, were moist without feeling undercooked, were textured without being busy, and had a wonderful blend of flavours. Go and make them immediately, you won’t regret it.

Chocolate… in a soup? And other delicious things

As planned, today I made Jack Monroe’s chocolate, chilli and black bean soup. It wasn’t a particularly labour-intensive process but anything involving dried beans takes a while to put together, so I used the various simmering times to whip up a batch of shortbread and put the leftover vegetable mince from yesterday’s recipes into some pastry to make a monster pasty which will probably end up being at least two meals. To keep my strength up while I cooked, I also made some of Jack’s peanut butter hot chocolate using some of the chocolate from the soup recipe (and of course carried out a bit of quality control on the rest of the bar, you can’t be too careful…).

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The soup turned out rather browner than I had expected, oddly

My flat now smells delicious and is extremely warm! Once I’ve portioned out yesterday’s lasagne and pie along with today’s culinary efforts I think my freezer will be well and truly stocked for the next few weeks. I am going to freeze the shortbread in single-portion bags in an attempt to stop myself from eating them all in one go; they’re intended to be snacks for placement but that’s what last week’s flapjack was meant to be and I’d eaten it all after two days off.

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The monster pasty – and there is still mince left over!

I’ve also made sure that I have all the ingredients for a loaf of banana bread and what the internet assures me is the Best Chocolate Cake Ever, which I’m planning on making on Tuesday or Wednesday. Doing all this baking in the same week might be a miscalculation given the aforementioned lack of self-control where baked goods are concerned, but it’s a lot cheaper than running to the hospital shop to buy snacks during my breaks, and I’m rapidly discovering that on a 14 hour shift I need a bit more than a Thermos of soup, a small tub of pasta and an apple to keep me going.

Incidentally, I was excited to discover today that I had misjudged Aldi – they do in fact sell soya milk, I had simply failed to find it last time I looked, and it’s also cheaper than in Sainsbury’s. And at the checkout today there was a box of flapjack with two varieties clearly labelled as “suitable for vegans”. To cap my delight, in the chocolate section I discovered an accidentally-vegan bar of dark chocolate-covered marzipan, possibly my favourite treat ever. It took great strength of mind to prevent myself from buying both just because I could. Soya milk was the only remaining thing I thought I needed to go to Sainsbury’s for; now that I know I can get it at Aldi more cheaply, my loyalty to the big orange megastore (bought many years ago by the simple expedient of their issuing me with a discount card and a monthly payslip) has been wholly transferred.

Back in Business!

I haven’t been blogging for a while now. There are several reasons, including the fact that I’ve been pretty busy and haven’t felt particularly inspired, but the main problem with this blog has been my depressing lack of a functional camera. After all, what is the point of a food blog without photos?! My camera screen’s backlight has been broken for months, possibly even years at this point, but I’d never got round to getting it fixed or replaced.

However, this morning I got an email which made me realise I will be getting a small unexpected* windfall soon, and I decided to spend it on getting myself a new camera. We’re not talking anything fancy here; I just want to be able to see what I’m photographing and maybe zoom in a bit to show detail! However, it seems that cameras have come a long way since I bought my first, and up until now only, point and shoot – for the same amount of money that it would cost me to get the backlight fixed, I can get an entirely new camera with almost three times the zoom, more than twice as many megapixels and a larger screen. My understanding of those things is somewhat hazy but I know enough to realise that my new camera will be better than my old one ever was! Within 3-5 working days, the glory of photography will return to this blog.

This is particularly exciting because I am cooking a lot of new things these days. Last week a friend came over for dinner and I gave her the choice of vegan pizza or vegan queasdillas. She went for the quesadillas, but I whipped up a pizza anyway and stuck it in the freezer along with two more portions of pizza dough which I made using my KitchenAid for the very first time (I’m sure this is old news to the rest of the world but stand mixers are AWESOME). I’d made refried beans in advance and also improvised a guacamole recipe using whatever I had lying around (white onions, cherry tomatoes and a bit of paprika, along with the obvious avocado).

I’ve got a list as long as my arm of things I want to try, drawn from various vegan cookbooks which I’ve been trawling through looking for recipes that use ingredients I’ve heard of and result in things I’d want to eat – it is surprising how many don’t meet both these thresholds… The list includes a few different types of burger, courgette “pasta” and cauliflower “rice” which are two ways of using vegetables I’ve heard of but never tried, and a few veganised versions of my old favourite meals.

I finally took the plunge and cancelled the fruit and vegetable box delivery, because it simply wasn’t working for me. The idea of getting a week’s worth of produce delivered to my door seemed perfect, but unfortunately I never seemed to have the right ingredients for what I wanted to make, and any recipes that would use up what was in the box required a long list of things that weren’t. Added to the fact that I keep chucking stuff out because it had gone off within a day or two of it arriving, it just didn’t seem worth keeping going. I made my first ceremonial trip to Aldi last week and have rediscovered the novelty of being able to confidently plan my meals without having to desperately scrabble for a way to use up yet another head of kale.

I’m also keen to do some baking. Every so often I think “oh, I’ll make muffins this week!” or ponder the idea of banana bread for breakfast, only to realise that I don’t have the right tins or trays. Somehow I seem to have accepted the absence of a muffin tray from my kitchen cupboards as being a simple fact of life, a scientific truth over which I have no control. It is not so! I have the power to BUY a muffin tray, and even maybe some muffin cases! Muffins will very soon be within my reach.

So that’s a quickish update on what will be coming up on Faint with Hunger over the next few weeks. Hopefully this will be the last unillustrated post for a very long time!

 

 

* When I say windfall, what I actually mean is three months’ unpaid wages that I hadn’t noticed I wasn’t getting. I am appallingly bad at keeping track of my finances – if I don’t seem to have much money, I just become even more frugal, and never stop to think “wait a minute, when was the last time I actually got paid for X job?”. I’m a little less slapdash in my role as treasurer for the local community shop, fortunately!

White Sauce Failure

Yesterday was a very busy day for me, so I had carefully planned out my meals in advance. I was craving a creamy mushroom pasta sauce; as a child I loved the Sainsbury’s pour-over pots which we had with filled tortellini (the mushroom sauce doesn’t seem to be sold any more, and at any rate isn’t vegan) so I hunted online for a simple recipe which would be quick to make and fill that gap.

This recipe by PETA was the one I settled on, as it looked quite simple and didn’t call for any ingredients I didn’t already have, except for parsley because I hate parsley. Ugh, parsley. Anyway. Once I’d got home I quickly gathered together my equipment – harder than you might think, as my kitchen was slowly disappearing under a mountain of dirty dishes which I am about to start washing once I’ve finished this post – and started loosely following the recipe. As usual I dispensed with the idea of measuring and weighing, and just put a single portion of spaghetti onto boil while I made up the sauce.

White sauce has never been my strong point. I simply can’t manage to avoid making it lumpy! This time, I think I went wrong at the margarine stage, as it very quickly became a lot of dry lumps and when I started slowly adding the soya milk, the lumps got a bit smaller but never vanished. In the end I sieved the sauce so that almost all the lumps had gone, and ate the resulting thin liquid with the garlicy mushrooms. It was nice, but would have been a lot nicer if it had been a thick creamy sauce (and if I’d had time to flavour it properly – I was against the clock after all the stirring and sieving). Apologies for not having a photo but as I said, I was in a hurry and simply wolfed the plate of pasta down before sprinting out of the door.

I will try again soon, because if I can make a good white sauce then a lot more recipes will be available to me! I’ve managed it in the past under direction so it is possible… Next time I might try following these directions, which do things in a different order to the ones I’ve tried before. I’ll keep you posted!

Red Pepper and Lentil Pie

In preparation for last week’s dinner party I had bought two 300g packets of ready-rolled JusRol pastry, because the recipe needed 500g. (Incidentally, there are three reasons that I buy ready-rolled pastry: 1 I do not have a rolling pin, or much counter space for rolling. 2 JusRol pastry is vegan, and vegan fat is tricky to work with. 3 I am lazy.) I should have remembered that the last time I bought two packets of JusRol pastry for a 500g recipe, I only ended up using one of the packets – presumably because machines can roll pastry thinner than people bother with, which should be number 4 on my list – but I did not remember that so I bought two.

Red pepper and lentil pie with cabbage, broccoli and potatoes

And therefore I had a packet left over! I also had half a red bell pepper and a whole sweet red pepper, so I googled “vegan red pepper pie” and came across this recipe which looked delicious and didn’t need any ingredients I didn’t already have, except parsley because I hate parsley. Ugh. Anyway. Since I already had the pastry, and I’d actually remembered to take it out of the fridge in advance of wanting to use it so that it would unroll neatly, I set to work. Continue reading

Tiny-Flat Dinner Party

Last weekend I was chatting to my friend after church and spontaneously invited her to come for dinner this weekend, when my dad and Gill were visiting. I enjoy cooking for several people, even though I have a tendency to get flustered at the last minute, and I thought it would be a fun evening. I was delighted when she said yes, and began thinking about what we’d eat.

And then I got home and remembered that I only own two folding stools and my flat isn’t big enough to fold out the whole table and sit around it. Oops.

Continue reading