Chocolate Banana Cream Pie… you wouldn’t even know it was vegan!

My partner LOVES bananas and desserts involving bananas.  I wanted to make her something special to celebrate her completing an intense, four week summer arts workshop.  She was so immersed in her workshop that we saw very little of one another.  I’d leave for work while she was still sleeping, and she’d come home while I was sleeping.  It was the most backward schedule that we have ever had.  The week before she finished her program, we made a deal to have a “just us” weekend.  And to start off our weekend, I was originally going to surprise her with her favorite ice cream, roasted banana ice cream, but I couldn’t find the recipe I bookmarked and was too inpatient to find it while grocery shopping.  So instead, I made the next best banana dessert… vegan chocolate banana cream pie.

This was an amazing dessert that set up very nicely.  It reminded me of exactly what the real stuff tasted like, but only better and healthier and lighter!  What was also great about this recipe was that we were barely able to taste the silken tofu, unlike other silken tofu recipes that I’ve made before.  I can almost guarantee that non-vegans will like this recipe, too!

Vegan Chocolate Banana Cream Pie (adapted from Dairy Free Cooking)

1 (14 ounce) box of silken tofu, drained
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons coconut oil
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup raw cashews, finely ground
Your favorite vegan prepared pie crust or graham cracker crust

Prepare the vegan pie crust of your choice according to the recipe. Fit into a 9″ pie plate and bake according to the recipe’s instructions. Allow crust to cool completely on a wire cooling rack.

In a blender or food processor, process the silken tofu until creamy. Add the sugar, salt, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and coconut oil and process until well combined and very creamy. Add the mashed bananas and finely ground cashews and process until smooth. Pour into the prepared pie crust and chill for at least 2 hours or until set.

Vegan Chocolate Ganache

16 ounces good quality dark dairy-free chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk (not light version)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the coarsely chopped dark chocolate in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the coconut milk until bubbles just begin to appear around the edges and steam rises from the surface. Pour the hot coconut milk over the chopped chocolate and let stand without stirring for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, stir the chocolate-coconut milk mixture until glossy and smooth (this will take about 2 minutes of gentle stirring). Add the vanilla extract and stir until incorporated. Use warm or slightly cooled.

To finish the pie:

Prepare the Vegan Dark Chocolate Ganache according to the recipe. Pour immediately onto the set banana filling and allow to cool completely until set. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving. Serve cold.

Lime-Chile Mango Sorbet

I’ve come to the realization recently, with the help of my partner, that I’m a really clumsy person.  Leave it to me to knock over a glass of water at a nice restaurant, break all of our dishes, spill a glass of port while trying to take food pictures for this blog, and etc.  I gracefully, or better yet, gracelessly sprained my ankle the other night.  No bueno.  It’s not even anything worth mentioning.  In fact, it’s almost kind of embarrassing how it happened.  And it didn’t even involve alcohol!  Or sex!  I was taking my little dog out to potty and after he finished, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to bring in the trash/recycle bins with him in my possessions.  So with one arm wrapped around him, my other hand was lugging in the trash bin.  Well, somehow I tripped over the curb, and trying to protect my little pup, I twisted my ankle.  Hard.  It was so painful.  But my pup was okay!  I had to sit for a little while for the pain to subside a bit.  I mustered up whatever pride I had left to bring in the bins, and limped back home.

I don’t know why I did this, but I woke up yesterday morning and decided to go to work.  I’m stubborn like that.  I know I should have stayed home.  But didn’t.  I limped through the doors of work and was immediately bombarded with questions of what happened.  I wish I was witty enough to come up with a great story, but alas, I had none.  It must have been pretty comical for my coworkers to see my limping up and down the hallways of the emergency department.  What would normally take me only a few seconds to walk to one side of the department took me about five minutes to get there.  I felt very inefficient and useless at work.  But I did limp my way through helping with three trauma activations.  Unfortunately, however, with every step I took, my ankle became angrier and angrier at me.  So much so that I had to leave work to see a doctor for evaluation and X-rays.

So here I am today, not at work, with my ankle resting, icing, compressed with ace wrap, and elevated (i.e., RICE – rest, ice, compression, elevate).  I’m bored.  No one is home.  It’s just me and the three dogs.  I’m hungry.  And the only thing that sounds soothing and comforting is a bowl of mango sorbet.

What’s your bowl of comfort?

Lime-Chile Mango Sorbet (adapted from The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments by David Lebovitz, published by Ten Speed Press)

2 large, ripe mangoes
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon chile powder, plus extra for garnish

Peel the mangoes, and cut the mangoes into chunks. Put the mangoes in a blender with the sugar, water, chile powder, and lime juice. Squeeze the mango pits hard over the blender to extract as much of the pulp and juice as possible.

Puree the mixture until you have a smooth consistency. Taste, then add more lime juice if desired. Allow the mixture to chill thoroughly, then freeze it in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Makes 2 pints.

Reconstructed Vegan Strawberry Cheesecake

I just so happened to glance up from my computer and caught a glimpse of what Paula Deen and her son was making.  I just had to make these today.  But I wasn’t that motivated to get off the couch.  You see, I declared today a lazy day when I got off of work last night.  It was one of those days in the emergency department where I left work feeling a little demolished.  So all I wanted to do today was to cuddle with my two little boys, catch up on recorded DVR shows, and rest.  And of course, it was just my lucky day because I had all the ingredients the recipe called for, so my lazy behind didn’t need to get off the couch to make a special trip to the grocery store.  Although I had all the ingredients for the recipe, I wanted to do more to it.  Give it a little more pizazz.  Make it a little bit more healthy.  And it just clicked… vegan strawberry cheesecake with graham crackers.

These are amazing and delicious little morsels of yumminess.  Wow.  These would be EVEN better with real cream cheese.  I think these might make the perfect dish to bring to a potluck or dinner party.  In fact, these are what we will be bringing to the next potluck we are invited to.  They were really simple to make.  It probably took us less than 15 minutes to put together.

You’ll love these.

Trust me.


Reconstructed Vegan Strawberry Cheesecake (adapted from The Deen Brothers)

20 whole large strawberries, hulled
8 ounces Tofutti cream cheese, softened
1/4 plus 2 tablespoons cup confectioners’ powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2/3 cup graham crackers, roughly chopped

Cut a thin slice from the bottom of each strawberry so the berries stand upright. Place berries, cut side down, on a serving platter. Carefully cut the berries into 4 wedges, cutting almost to, but not through, the bottoms with a criss-cross cut. Fan wedges just slightly, taking care not to break them. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat together the Tofutti cream cheese, sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla until combined but still stiff. Using a teaspoon or pastry bag with decorative tip, fill the strawberries with the cream cheese mixture. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. When ready to serve, place chopped graham crackers on top of the stuffed strawberries.

Makes 20 stuffed berries.

Raspberry Fruit Birthday Tart

Ah, rx4foodies’ 32nd birthday. A time for fun, celebration, and piles and piles of good food! If only birthdays were not so fettered with emotion at my house. Yes, rx4foodie and I each have our own uniquely complicated relationship with getting older and celebrating birthdays. This year, for rx4foodie, it came in the form of critical self examination. It was the year of “what now?” and “is this all there is?” The days leading up to her birthday were filled with the sounds of Dr. Chang’s own unsettling version of an existential, quarter-life crisis.

So, as her loving and doting partner what was my answer to ease her pain you ask?  What else, lots and lots of food. Food for days. We invited a friend over for dinner Friday night, went out with another couple for sushi Saturday night, shared breakfast at a favorite local spot Sunday morning, and then the coup de grace.  Birthday night dinner.   Like most households, our most steadfast tradition for holidays and events is a very large and laborious meal. For obvious reasons, this time around I opted for comfort food.

The menu: roast beef with a garlic and herb rub, mushroom risotto with truffle oil, roasted broccoli, and a berry tart equip with burning candle on top.   I won’t bore you with the gory account of my day in the kitchen.   Unlike you dear, rx4foodies reader, I am not adept in the culinary arts and limit my time in the kitchen exclusively to sous chef duties as needed.   Below is the recipe for my berry tart, the only part of the meal that is my own and not followed line by line from a recipe, enjoy.

Tart crust

1 cup whole wheat four
1 and ¼ cup all purpose flour
1 cup unsalted butter (chilled)
2-3 tablespoon ice water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a food processor combine flour, butter, salt and sugar and pulse until combined into pea sized balls.   Slowly add in the ice water until the dough forms into a large ball.   Remove from the food processor and refrigerate in a glass bowl for 30 minutes.  Roll out the dough to ¼ inch thick. Cut into 12 inch circles and pat into tart pans, leave some excess dough around the edge as the dough will tighten and shrink in the oven.   Put in the freezer for 5-10 minutes and then bake frozen for 12 minutes, or until it is a light golden brown.

Pastry Cream Filling

8 ounces Tofutti cream cheese (you can use cream cheese, but we prefer the taste)
4 ounces heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar (we like it less sweet, so add to taste)
1 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
1 bar of dark chocolate
Fresh raspberries

Melt the chocolate over a double boiler until melted and then spoon a thin layer on the bottom of each cooled tart shell and set to cool in the refrigerator.   In a food processor or electric mixer, beat the tofutti, whipping cream and sugar until the mixture is aerated but still firm (like loose pudding).  Scoop the mixture into the tart shells and top with fresh berries.   I suggest that you let them set in the refrigerator for 10-20 minutes before serving.

Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce

I first discovered salted caramels a few years ago while watching the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network.  It was love at first sight.  The salted caramels, that is.  Not Ina Garten, even though she rocks the Kazbah.  I was immediately intrigued when she said “salted caramels.”  I had never heard of this phenomenon.  But I just knew it was going to be a wonderful thing.  Savory and sweet wrapped up into one little morsel of goodness.  Yum.  It couldn’t get any better than that. (Well, actually it can because I discovered maple bacon caramels a few years later.)  I searched for the recipe, bookmarked it, and waited for the perfect time to make these little treats.  I guess I didn’t really need an excuse, but I was sort of stalling because I was intimidated by the whole candy-making process.  I read numerous reviews from those who attempted the recipe, and was terrified that the caramels were going to be either too soft or too hard.  But they were perfect when I finally had the opportunity to make them.  And when I popped one of those salty, buttery, creamy caramels in my mouth, I came to the realization that… life is good.

So now I have an obsession with anything salted caramels… especially salted caramel sauce.  Ooooooh-weeeeeee, that stuff is good!  This stuff will make anything taste better.  Drizzle it over your favorite desserts and/or fruits, and you got yourself a flavor party in your mouth.

Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce (adapted from Cork and Rind)

1/4 cup water
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon fleur de sel (reduce to 1/2 teaspoon if it’s too salty for your liking)

In a DEEP saucepan, combine water and sugar over medium-high heat. I know it’s tempting, but do not stir the sugar-water mixture. Just swirl the pan to mix. Continue to boil for about 10 minutes until the caramel is a warm amber brown color (observe color changing process below). Do not walk away while the sugar is boiling. Once the color starts to change, it doesn’t take long from deep amber to a not-so-pleasant burnt sugar taste.

In the meantime, bring the cream, butter, and 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel to a simmer in a small pan over medium heat. Remove from the heat, set aside and keep warm.

When the caramelized sugar is the right color, slowly add the cream mixture to the caramel – it will boil up violently (this is why a deep saucepan is necessary). Once the bubbles subside, whisk until the cream has been incorporated into the sugar mixture.

Use right away, or allow to cool to room temperature and pour into a container for storage. Caramel sauce can be refrigerated for a couple of weeks. Before using, either warm the sauce or allow it to come to room temperature.

Calories per tablespoon: 100 (approximate)

You Would Never Suspect These Crepes Were Eggless-cellent!

Who ever came up with a flax egg is a freaking genius! Egg substitute?! Yes, please.  I mean, this person should get an award for such a freaking brilliant and ingenious idea.  I love a good egg substitute for cooking and baking.  Don’t get wrong, I’m not an egg hater.  No, no.  I love me some eggs.   I love eggs fried, scrambled, baked, sunny side up, over-easy/medium/hard, hard-boiled, raw, pickled, poached, deviled, as a quiche, strata, fritata, a meringue, a souffle, a custard, in a dressing, and I’m sure there is many more ways to cook an egg.   But you get the point.  Eggs are egg-cellent.  Heehee, get it??   Egg-cellent, instead of excellent.  Nevermind.

Unfortunately, as I get older, my body has become less efficient at protecting me from things like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and many other ailments.  High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes has already been encoded into my genetic makeup.  So it’s not like I can run and hide.  And actually, I did have a bit of a scare when I was in my late 20’s and learned that I was on the verge of developing high cholesterol.   I did have a total cholesterol of 215 mg/dL (the Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines state an ideal total cholesterol level of <200 mg/dL), but my LDL-C (aka, bad cholesterol) was low, my HDL-C (aka good cholesterol) was high, and my triglycerides were also low.  So my nurse practitioner wasn’t too concerned. I was given a prescription for a “lifestyle modification” and a cholesterol panel recheck in 6 months.  I left the doctor’s office feeling somewhat defeated, but it was also the best wake-up call for me.  I started getting into cycling, and modified my diet by eating out less, cooking and eating less butter/fried foods/eggs (the latter was a huge part of my daily diet).  Six months later, my cholesterol panel was flawless.  I realized that implementing some of the littlest changes resulted in the most positive impact health-wise.

Whole Wheat Vegan Crepes

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 flax egg (1 tablespoon ground flaxseed + 3 tablespoons water)
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups unsweetened, almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (for sweet crepes)
1.5 tablespoons agave syrup (for sweet crepes)

In a small bowl, combine the flaxseed and water, and mix.   Add the almond milk to the flax egg, and whisk together.   In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt, and then add the flax egg mixture.   Whisk until all the ingredients have combined, resulting in a smooth and runny texture.   Let the mixture sit for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Heat a nonstick 8″ pan over medium-high heat.   Coat pan with nonstick spray.   Pour 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan and swirl to spread evenly.  Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side.   Cook for another 2 minutes and remove to the cutting board.  Lay them out flat so they can cool.   Continue until all batter is gone.   After they have cooled you can stack them and store in sealable plastic bags in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for up to two months.  When using frozen crepes, thaw on a rack before gently peeling apart.

We served these with our favorite praline butter from Le Pain Quotidien, sliced bananas, and pistachios.  Yum.

Makes 8 crepes.

Calories per crepe: 75

My first attempt at baking in 15 years… frustrating, but rewarding.

My partner’s birthday is one week from tomorrow.  Her favorite cake to devour on her birthday is a german chocolate cake, and it’s been her one request for several years now.  So it’s become a tradition… a  home-cooked meal, and a german chocolate cake.  Except that I’ve always cheated and bought the cake from a bakery.  I always made excuses for why I was never able to bake her a cake… no time, had to work, her friends were not going to eat what I bake.  Those were the most common excuses.  I’m sure there were many more.  But in actuality, I was and still am intimidated by baking.  It’s too precise for me.  I like cooking savory dishes so much more because a little dash of this, and a little dash of that, and voila!… a tasty meal.  No measurements, no thing.  Just pure intuition.

I’m a horrible baker.  The last time I attempted to bake was fifteen years ago.  I was trying to bake chocolate chip cookies from store bought ready-made cookie dough.  The cookies looked nothing like the picture.  They were flat, and dry.  Ugh.  I mean, how can you mess up ready-made cookie dough?!  They are made to be fail proof.  You just drop dough onto a buttered cookie sheet, and wait 8 to 10 minutes for cookies!  Not me.  The cookies ended up in the garbage.  From then on, I swore to myself that I would never try to bake anything sweet ever again.  Ever.  Until this year.

I promised her a homemade german chocolate cake.  We were celebrating my partner’s birthday a little early this year with a group of friends, so today was the day.  The day to bake.  The day that I’ve avoided for a very long time.  It took me three hours to make, bake and assemble.  I don’t think it should have taken this long.  I also had many other revelations along the way of making this cake.  Firstly, I can’t believe that of all cakes I tried to bake, this was the one.  This was a very involved recipe!  Secondly, I had many horrible mishaps along the way of baking.  I think it was a sign that I was not meant to be a baker.  Lastly, I realized how important it is to have at least a hand-held electric mixer.  I hand-mixed and hand beat EVERYTHING in the recipe below.  My forearms were very sore by the end of the process.  And my eggs white didn’t quite have “stiff peaks,” but it worked out.  Why didn’t I just buy the hand-held electric mixer today when I was getting some accessories at Sur La Table?!  But with that being said, the mini cakes turned out very tasty.

I also had an epiphany after assembling the cakes… I’m not a baker.  I just don’t have the patience.  I plan on buying boxed cake mix, and will make the coconut filling from scratch.  It’ll be a hybrid homemade cake 🙂

Mini German Chocolate Cakes (adapted from Bakers Royale)

For the cake:
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons water
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-inch cake pans.

Melt both chocolates together with the 6 tablespoons of water. Use either a double-boiler or a microwave. Stir until smooth, then set aside until room temperature.

In the bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter and 1 ¼ cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate, then the egg yolks, one at a time.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Mix in half of the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture, then the buttermilk and the vanilla extract, then the rest of the dry ingredients.

In a separate metal or glass bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft, droopy peaks.  Beat in the ¼ cup of sugar until stiff.

Fold about one-third of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until there’s no trace of egg white visible.

Divide the batter into the 2 prepared cake pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool cake layers completely.  (This was a really important part of making this cake.  I think this steps allows for the cakes to be handled with more ease.  I made the mistake of handling the cake layers while they were still warm, and the cakes seemed to crumble a lot easier.  Things to learn along the way, I suppose 🙂 )

While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the filling, syrup, and icing.

For the filling:
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups sweetened coconut, toasted

Mix the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the butter, salt, toasted coconut, and pecan pieces in a large bowl.

Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the spoon (an instant-read thermometer will read 170°.)

3. Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. The mixture will thicken as it cools.

For the syrup:
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum

In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the dark rum.

For the chocolate ganache:
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream

Place the chocolate into a medium bowl.

Heat the cream in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Bring just to a boil, watching very carefully because if it boils for a few seconds, it will boil out of the pot.  When the cream has come to a boil, pour over the chopped chocolate, and whisk until smooth.

Allow the ganache to cool slightly before pouring over a cake. Start at the center of the cake and work outward.

To assemble cakes:
Requires a 2.5 inch cake ring

Using a serrated knife, cut the two cakes in half leaving you four large, round disks. Using the cake ring, cut as many 2.5 inch diameter cakes from the four round cakes. Brush each layer with the sugar-rum syrup. Spread one teaspoonful of filling on the top of the bottom layer, then repeating with one more layer, until layer is filled except the top. Pour chocolate top, and top off with a little sprinkle of shredded coconut and a pecan to finish it.

Makes 14 individual cakes.