Pumpkin banana bread with chocolate chips (plus a vegan life update!)

By my count, Grant and I have been eating semi-vegan for about seven months. For us, this means our meals at home are plant-based (lots of lentils and beans), but G will occasionally order seafood when we’re out. I still eat eggs and yogurt pretty regularly and order whatever the hell I want at a restaurant.

We’re doing this to address Grant’s allergies, but for a few other reasons, as well: high-quality, responsibly sourced meat is expensive. We’re talking now about reintroducing poultry upon occasion (I miss my roasted chicken now that it’s cold outside), but saving money by getting protein from plant sources has been great. It’s also been fun experimenting with new vegan recipes (this creamy pasta, vegan queso, and my daal have all been hits). I’ve had a few fails, but nothing inedible. A slightly crunchy bean can’t make you sick like a slightly raw chicken breast can!

The biggest hurdle has been vegan baking. Grant has been allergic to dairy since babyhood, so I’ve long-since conquered dairy-free baking. But cutting out eggs (a childhood allergy of his that’s reemerged in adulthood) has been so difficult. Eggs are integral in so many baked goods. They add structure, lift, and moisture. At most health food stores, you can find vegan egg substitutes, but I tend stay away from single-use products like that. I don’t mind buying cashew or coconut milk because those alternatives have a bunch of purposes: oatmeal, creamy sauces, Oreo dipping.

After some trial and error, I’ve settled on my go-to vegan egg substitute for baking: flaxseed meal! It’s relatively inexpensive, multipurpose (I often add it to smoothies and oatmeal), and full of nutrition. Win-win.

You can buy whole flax and grind it yourself or buy flaxseed meal. You want to store both in the fridge or freezer.

To make a “flax egg,” you combine one tablespoon of flaxseed meal with two tablespoons water, and let it sit for a few minutes. The water hydrates the meal, and it thickens and gels. Word on the street is that this substitute works best for sturdy baked goods, like quick breads. I wouldn’t try and use this in a delicate cookie.

My greatest vegan baking success to date is this pumpkin banana bread. It’s moist, well-spiced, and totally vegan; it’s delicious warm with (vegan) butter (this is our favorite) and cold out of the fridge. It also froze and defrosted well!


Pumpkin banana bread with chocolate chips

Makes one 9×13 pan (leftovers freeze well!)

3 c all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp Kosher salt

½ tsp baking powder

1 ½ tsp cinnamon

¾ tsp ginger

½ tsp cloves

¼ tsp nutmeg

1 c granulated sugar

½ c brown sugar

⅔ c vegetable oil

1/2 c applesauce

2 flax eggs (2 tbsp of flaxmeal + 4 tbsp of water, combine and let sit for ~10 mins)

1 c pumpkin puree

1 c mashed banana

1 c vegan chocolate chips (the regular chocolate chips at Trader Joe’s and Costco are vegan)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9×13 pan.

  2. Combine flour through spices with a whisk in a medium bowl.

  3. In a large bowl, mix sugars, oil, applesauce, and flax eggs until well-combined. Add pumpkin and banana and mix again.

  4. Add flour mixture to liquids bowl and carefully combine with spatula (do not overmix).

  5. Fold in chocolate chips.

  6. Pour into 9×13 pan, and bake for 25-35 minutes, until only a few crumbs stick during the toothpick test.

    Notes: The applesauce also adds some moisture that an egg would have.

    I chose to bake this in a 9×13, rather than loaf pans, so that it would have less height. Eggs help a baked good to keep structure, and a 9×13 sheet cake needs less height and structure than a loaf.

Photo of the vegan chocolate chips from Costco, in case you need help 😜

Recipe adapted from this great one. I did once make it according to that exact recipe (subbing chocolate chips for pecans), and it was very delicious.

Vegan pumpkin mac with roasted garlic

Mac and cheese is my ultimate no-brakes food. I’m not even picky: I can easily house an entire box of Kraft, but I prefer something that’s made with a little more care. I love this one, this one, and, most of all, this one.

There are several road blocks to my one true foodlove, though. First and foremost, my one true humanlove, my husband Grant, is allergic to dairy. While I’m not above waiting until he’s out of town and eating mac and cheese for every meal until he returns, he doesn’t travel without me quite enough for that solution to fill the macaroni-shaped hole in my heart.

Mac and cheese also doesn’t really fit into my regular healthy-eating plan. I’m more than willing to splurge on good-quality macaroni upon occasion, but finding a lighter solution to my craving was crucial to my continued happiness.

The answer to both of these issues is vegan macaroni and cheese. It’s just as cozy, more nutritious, and tastes similar to the real thing. I’m not trying to sell you on this recipe tasting just like your mama’s macaroni, because it doesn’t. BUT, it has a similar taste, a near-identical consistency, and the creamy mouthfeel is the same. (How gross is the word mouthfeel, btw?)

This is my riff on several vegan macs I’ve tried and loved. I added canned pumpkin for added vitamins and fiber and also for some Autumn vibes. (I almost called this Harvest Mac with Roasted Garlic, but that seemed a little too… lame?) The roasted garlic makes it super savory and yummy, and nutritional yeast brings the cheesy flavor. If you’ve never cooked with nutritional yeast (or “nooch”) before, it’s a vegan seasoning that adds a cheesy flavor to anything. I buy mine in bulk from the Hyvee Health Market, but it’s available at most health food stores and on Amazon. Top this mac with red pepper flakes and serve with something green on the side.

VEGAN PUMPKIN MAC WITH ROASTED GARLIC

Cloves from 1 head of roasted garlic (slice top off the head to expose cloves, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in tinfoil, and bake at 375 for 30-45 mins, depending on size of cloves. It’s done when your kitchen smells like an Italian restaurant and the cloves are soft like butter)

4 tbsp olive oil

4 tbsp flour

2 c cashew milk

1 c canned pumpkin

½ c nutritional yeast (more to taste)

Salt and pepper

12 oz macaroni (this amount of pasta results in a lot of sauce, perfect to stir in veggies of your choice!)

  1. Bring water to boil, prepare pasta to desired consistency. Drain and reserve when ready.
  2. Heat oil in large skillet (I use my cast iron) over medium. Once heated, sprinkle in flour slowly, whisking the whole time. This will create a paste, called a roux. Cook the roux, whisking constantly, for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Stream cashew milk in, whisking constantly to ensure no lumps (if there’s a lump or two, it’ll get blended out in a bit). Allow to bubble over medium-low heat for a few minutes, whisking near constantly, until thickened. (It should coat the back of a spoon.)
  4. Once thickened, add sauce to blender with pumpkin, all of the garlic cloves, nutritional yeast, and salt and pepper. Blend on high until very smooth.
  5. Taste for seasoning (don’t be afraid to add lots of salt and nutritional yeast. It should taste cheesy and well-salted). Add back to skillet, and allow to bubble over medium-low for 2 minutes or so.
  6. Fold in pasta, top with red pepper flakes, and enjoy!

Inspired by this recipe from Minimalist Baker, the first vegan macaroni and cheese I ever made.

For the Brussels, trim and halve Brussels sprouts, toss with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and roast at 425 for 12 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Dinner drop-off: Sweet potato, coconut, and red lentil daal

I’m in the season of life where everyone is having babies. The season where happy hours often include holding a friend’s baby in one hand and a cocktail in the other. The season where multiple friends at a time are down for the count with morning sickness.

While it feels a tiny bit bittersweet for the spontaneity of childless years to be leaving my friend circle, it mostly feels exciting. I love babies, and I love seeing the strong, awesome women I hold so dearly with their little ones.

Today, I want to share with you my favorite way to support the new mamas in my life: bring them a meal! This idea isn’t innovative or difficult or expensive, but it’s something I wish we all did more of. When a friend is in need, whether that’s because they’re struggling or celebrating, feed them!

Honestly, you don’t even have to enjoy cooking for this to work. Bringing your friend’s favorite takeout is probably just as welcome as a homemade meal. When you bring them food, any food at all, that means they don’t have to worry about the chore of making dinner, even if it’s just for the night.

When you bring a new mom dinner, sometimes you have to carry strange bags into the office. 

I’ll be sharing a series of these recipes that work well for the dinner drop-off in the coming months. These meals have to fit several criteria: 1. Cozy and simple, 2. Store and reheat well, 3. Walk the line between healthy and indulgent.

My best tips and tricks for meal delivery success:

  • All-disposable everything. When you’re bringing a friend a meal, it’s likely because the rest of their life feels overwhelming. Don’t give them the additional task of remembering to return your casserole dish. I am usually a stickler for glass storage and reusable containers, but this is an exception. I have a few Rubbermaids that I am not attached to, and I just tell the recipient to pass that container along as needed. If a gallon ziplock will do the job, use one.
  • Check in about food preferences. If you’re not sure if your friend has any allergies or aversions, just ask. Especially if you’re making food for a newly pregnant and possibly nauseated friend or a nursing mom. I usually send a text or email like this: “I want to bring you dinner Wednesday evening. Are there any specific foods you’re avoiding?”
  • Give a heads-up. Since the idea of this good deed is to take the weight off your friend’s shoulders, let her know a day or two ahead of time what you’re thinking. That way she doesn’t spend any time stressing about what’s for dinner that night — she knows she has a delivery from you on the way.

The meal I’m sharing today, a simple lentil daal with sweet potatoes and green peas, is a favorite at my house. It’s spiced and flavorful, but not spicy; it’s hearty, but not heavy. It freezes well in case your friend can’t use the meal right away. I brought it to a friend and her husband earlier this week with brown rice, garlic naan, and chewy blondies with chocolate, coconut, and pecans.

Sweet potato, coconut, and red lentil daal

Serves 2 hungry adults for 2 meals

I know that this dish isn’t authentic. But it’s wholesome, hearty, and has all the coziness of chicken noodle soup.

Ingredients:

Medium yellow onion, diced

Coconut or olive oil

Four cloves of garlic, minced

Tbsp fresh ginger, minced

 

Tbsp yellow curry powder

½ tbsp turmeric

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp cardamom

1 tsp salt (more to taste)

 

3 medium sweet potatoes, chopped into small cubes

1 c red lentils

1 can full-fat coconut milk

1 cup water (more to add if daal gets dry)

 

1 c frozen green peas

  1. Heat a large pan over medium-high heat (I use my cast iron skillet). Once hot, add a couple tablespoons of your chosen oil. I use a combination of coconut and olive. When the oil is melted/hot, add the onions. Sautee until golden brown, up to ten minutes.
  2. Add garlic and ginger. Sautee for 30 seconds, or until very fragrant. Lower heat to medium.
  3. Add spices, and — stirring constantly — toast for one minute. I add more coconut oil at this step if the pan looks dry.
  4. Add sweet potatoes, lentils, coconut milk, salt, and water. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 30-40 minutes. Stir occasionally, ensuring that the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. If the lentils or sweet potatoes need more liquid to cook, add about a cup of water halfway into the cooking time.
  5. Once the potatoes are fork-tender, stir in the green peas. Allow to simmer for five more minutes to warm the peas through.
  6. Serve with brown rice, naan, or both if you need extra comfort. Sriracha and cilantro are welcome compliments.

Heavily adapted from this recipe.

Note on rice: for the best reheating experience, spread still-hot, freshly cooked rice in a flat layer (like on a big baking sheet) until completely cool. Then store and refrigerate. The rice will reheat in individual grains, not as a big clump.

Magical Roasted Chicken // Winter Go-To

Each season, I fall into a pattern with my cooking. Grilled meat and fresh veggies in the summer, chili as soon as it’s chilly outside, and roasted chickens at least once a week from September through May.

Roasted whole chicken is really the perfect food. Juicy and flavorful, a combo of white and dark meat (legs for me, please!), and the crispy skin that is better than any potato chip.

And, even better, it’s an entrée that you cook once and can eat multiple times. I’ll roast a chicken on Sunday, and we’ll eat some of it with simple sides like mashed potatoes and sautéed greens. I’ll pull the rest of the chicken, and then it’s ready for WHATEVER. Stir into soup; add to a green salad; make a panini.

What comes next is the magic part.

I didn’t take advantage of this magic for years, and I wish someone would have schooled me sooner. Until a few months ago, I would pull all the meat off the chicken carcass, and then I’d toss the bones.

What was I thinking?!

Now I know better. I put the carcass – bones, skin, and all – in the crockpot. I fill the crockpot with water. I turn it on low, leave it overnight or longer, and THAT’S IT. That’s chicken stock.

When I wake up in the morning, the whole house smells like a vat of chicken soup, and that’s not as gross as it sounds. It’s the best.

Even without adding any extra seasonings or aromatics, this stock tastes 10 times better than the stuff in the carton. And it’s FREE!

I’ll freeze half of it and put the rest in the fridge. Later in the week, I’ll use it to make soup. This one, with red lentils, butternut squash, and russet potatoes, is my current favorite.

MAGICAL ROASTED CHICKEN

  1. Preheat the oven to 425. This is HOT, so anything on the floor of the oven will smoke. Turning on your hood fan is a good idea (I learned this the hard way).
  2. Dry the chicken (around 5 lbs) thoroughly with paper towels. Put the chicken, breast side up, in a cast iron skillet. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Season heavily, inside and out, with salt and pepper.
    Before.
  3. Roast for 25 minutes at 425.
  4. Reduce the heat to 350. Baste the chicken all over with olive oil.
  5. Roast for 45 more minutes, basting with olive oil every 15 minutes.
  6. Take the chicken’s temperature by inserting an instant-read thermometer into the thigh of the chicken (picture of what this looks like up top!). This is the thickest part of the bird, and dark meat takes longer to cook than white. The bird is ready to remove from the oven when the thigh registers at 165 degrees. The drumstick should also be very wiggly, like the bone will slip right out. This may take an additional 10 minutes or so.
  7. Let the chicken rest, tented with foil, for at least 10 minutes while you finish preparing the rest of the meal. (The skin will lose some of its crispness when you tent the chicken, so eat a little first!)

Chicken roasting method inspired by What’s Gaby Cooking.

FREE CHICKEN STOCK

  1. Add the chicken carcass and any leftover skin to the crock of a slow cooker. Mine is 6 quarts.
  2. Add water to fill the crock.
  3. Turn the slow cooker to low, and let the broth simmer for at least 12 hours (overnight).
  4. Turn the slow cooker off. Let the broth cool for about an hour.
  5. Strain the broth through a mesh strainer into a large container. Discard the solids. BE CAREFUL; it will still be hot.
  6. Use for whatever your heart desires. Some of my faves: boil egg noodles in the stock, add chicken and frozen peas; egg drop soup; minestrone with meatballs; and farro soup. Stock keeps for several months in the freezer.

Good luck! Let me know what ✨magic✨ you cook up.