Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

Avocado Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter FrostingIMG_2841

As a vegan of four years, I’ve done a good bit of experimenting with alternative baking methods, from black bean brownies to date-nut dessert bars. Until this summer, however, I hadn’t had much luck on the cake and cupcake front. But this week, that was my mission, and I think I finally found the magic ingredient I had been looking for: avocados.

Now before you cringe at the sheer incongruity of something so green and warty becoming the glue of such a decadent dessert, just think for a minute about guacamole. It’s thick and creamy and primarily composed of fats that give it that luscious, addicting texture…kind of like butter, except with unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat and cholesterol (and it’s green). You can sub a medium-sized avocado for one stick of butter, as both come to about half a cup, and it works wonders!

 

Cupcakes

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp cocoa powder
  • ½ cup agave nectar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 avocado

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Combine the wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls, being sure to mash the avocado well, and stir thoroughly. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, and whisk with an electric mixer for at least a minute, until batter is smooth. Line baking pans, add batter, and bake for 20 minutes. Makes 12 cupcakes.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting

  • ½ cup natural creamy peanut butter
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder

Mix well using electric mixer, and frost cupcakes once they have cooled completely.

Give these to your friends and family and see if they can guess what’s in them…my brothers definitely didn’t, but they did give their stamp of approval. Enjoy!

 

 

Peanut Butter Banana Sandwich Brownie Bars

2013-04-20 01.50.41So I made some brownies on 4/20 and they had some extra special ingredients…

…but not that kind of ingredients. Don’t worry, guys, I would never. These extra special ingredients are the extra healthy variety: chia seeds, flaxseeds, buckwheat, bananas, and peanut butter, plus some cocoa powder because you can never go wrong with chocolate, especially when peanut butter is already involved. When I first made these bars on a cookie sheet, they had the thickness and consistency, approximately, of a cookie cake, but I wanted them to be a bit more substantial. Since I already had peanut butter on hand, I decided to try cutting them into squares and making peanut butter sandwiches with the brownie bars, in order to double the thickness and simultaneously add some more extra peanut butter in addition to that already in the recipe. These were great snacks not only right out of the oven, but also after being refrigerated overnight, and made a perfect on-the-go, high-protein breakfast option that lasted almost a week.

Peanut Butter Banana Sandwich Brownie Bars

  • 1 cup peanut butter for batter +1/2 cup or so for making sandwiches
  • 2 mashed bananas
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 3 tbsp chia seeds
  • 2 tbsp flax seeds
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup honey

Mash bananas, add peanut butter and honey, and mix the wet ingredients well. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, and mix until you have a very thick batter. Grease a cookie sheet and spread the batter evenly on top of it. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 350°F, let cool, and cut into squares. Make sandwiches out of the squares by spreading peanut butter on half the squares and placing another square on each of the covered ones.

2013-04-20 01.57.14

Back in Chicago! GlobeMed, Theatre and The Protein Bar

Happy Friday! It’s a bit late, but I’m finally publishing last week’s weekend update, and a fabulous weekend it was, too. I caught up with old friends and met new ones, ate at old favorite restaurants and discovered new ones, and I saw both a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a Pulitzer Prize winner speak within a 24 hour time span.

I spent the weekend in Chicago, first for a national conference for GlobeMed, a global health organization composed of chapters from fifty universities, each of which partners with a healthcare organization in the developing world to raise money for its operations. My chapter’s partner is a public health organization in Laos, and we fund their malaria education programs. At the conference, we heard talks from doctors, public health workers, and other social activists that work in the developing world. The highlight was the keynote speaker, Leymah Gbowee, a social worker and mother who mobilized the women from her Christian congregation as well as the local Muslim mosque to nonviolently protest for peace during the Liberian Civil War in 2004. She was a passionate and inspiring speaker, warm, funny, and so, so strong, emphasizing the power of individuals to go out and change the world. She’s a pretty good example of that: her group actually did stop the war. Oh, did I mention she won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize? Pretty amazing.

After the conference at Northwestern ended on Sunday, I headed downtown to meet my Spanish class to see a play, The Happiest Song Plays Last by Quiara Alegría Hudes. On the way from the L stop to the theater, I found this intriguing gem of a restaurant at the intersection of State and Lake Street. I was looking for somewhere to eat before the play, so I walked into the ever so creatively named Protein Bar and was immediately impressed.

The mark of a good restaurant, in my book, is not being able to decide what to order. This happens so infrequently when eating out at your typical chain restaurant, but here they had an entire menu section on quinoa bowls, another on burritos, and another on hearty salads–basically my food groups. The restaurant is not vegan, but has many well-noted vegan as well as gluten-free options, making it a great place to stop with a group with diverse eating preferences. For my first time visiting, I decided on the Vegan Original burrito, filled with quinoa, black beans, tofu, lettuce, vegan cheese, and salsa. I also opted for avocado, for which you do have to pay a bit extra, but it was a bit extra well spent.

Hurried snapshot in the midst of eating…not the greatest quality, but you get the picture.

The burrito was very satisfying as well as tasty, able to hold me over until I got back to campus around 9 pm that night. I also ordered a chocolate peanut butter banana smoothie called the Wrigley Peeled, one a variety of Chicago-themed drinks including the Millenium Perk (with espresso), the Red Line (strawberry banana), and the South Açai’d (pretty self-explanatory).

The original Protein Bar, as I learned from their website later, opened in 2007, and already has 7 Chicago locations, with three more in the works, and has recently expanded to a location in Washington, DC. I’m sure I’ll return to one location or another over the summer, and this is what I’m eyeing next time:

I almost got this, but decided on the quinoa burrito instead. Next time though!

Oh, and the play was wonderful. The third in a trilogy the playwright based on her cousin Elliot’s experiences in the Iraq war and as a veteran, as well as on his Puerto Rican family’s life in North Philadelphia, it swung from heartwarming to heart-wrenching to hilarious. In this installment, Elliot is filming a docu-drama on the war in Jordan in the midst of the Arab Spring while his cousin Yaz deals with  love and loss back home. The characters communicate through text and video chat during the play as well, adding another modern touch. After the play, my class attended an question-and-answer session with Quiara Hudes, the playwright, along with her cousin Elliot and the actor who played him. It was an interesting dynamic, as real-life Elliot had just seen this play based on his own life for the first time, and it was fascinating to hear from all three of them.

Sadly, this weekend doesn’t look to be nearly as eventful as the last, but I am planning on finally hitting up the brand new Whole Foods that just opened in Mishawaka (the town over from South Bend), getting some ingredients, and finally doing some cooking! So stay tuned for a new recipe coming on Sunday.

 

Dumbledore’s Army Boot Camp and Magic Recovery Potions

Hitting the books and working the arms: Harry Potter books are totally underrated dumbbell substitutes.

I ran a half marathon a few weeks ago, and I found myself the next day not only with the expected sore quads, but also with almost equally aching shoulders. Clearly, I had been slacking in my upper body workouts (by which I mean, just not doing them…). So, when I was home for Easter last weekend and had some free time, I decided to get working on that.

I probably should have come to this resolution at school, where I have access to a state-of-the-art rec center, but I had to make do with what I had in the house. I use my brother’s 12.5 pound weights for bicep curls and shoulder presses, but for other exercises, like arm circles and raises, I need something a lot smaller. At the gym I’d use 2.5′s, but without any weights of that size in the house, I have come up with the solution (rather ingenious if you ask me) of lifting Harry Potter books. Clocking in at 2.7 pounds, Order of the Phoenix makes a perfect stand-in, and as part of a family of avid Potter fans, we own multiple copies of each of the last three volumes in the series.

I therefore call this workout the Dumbledore’s Army boot camp routine, consisting of two to three sets of 10 reps of the following, while lifting the books:

  • Arm circles, clockwise and counter clockwise
  • Around the world lifts, bringing your arms from your sides all the way over your head
  • T lifts, bringing your arms from your sides to shoulder level
  • Front lifts, holding your arms in front of you and lifting up
  • Outward front lifts, same as above but with your arms brought slightly out to the side

I did this workout after a morning run, before which I fueled up with this lovely chia seed energy pudding, which to fit our theme I’ll call Felix Felicis. :)

Fun fact: the ultra-running Tarahumara tribe have used chia seeds for fuel for centuries! They provide quickly digestible simple fats and sugars.

  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/3 cup almond milk
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • strawberries on top

The night before you want to eat this (or a few hours before would work too), combine the chia, almond milk, and cocoa powder, stir until the chia seeds are evenly distributed in the liquid. Leave in the fridge overnight, top with fruit if you want, and enjoy!

DC Cupcakes (and cookies and brownies and healthcare, oh my!)

Hey there blog world, it’s been awhile! Yes, college has gotten the best of me yet again. I’ve been busy with midterms, papers, club meetings, event planning, general socializing, you name it, but what doesn’t happen much is cooking. The presence of just one kitchen, and a rather understocked one at that, in my 300-or-so-person dorm is certainly an impediment, but the lack time for shopping and preparing dishes is the main culprit. Last month, however, I had a lovely hiatus from the daily grind on an alternative spring break trip to Washington, D.C. for a seminar class on the U.S. healthcare system. While there, we visited policy makers, health clinics, and think tanks to hear their perspectives on the Affordable Care Act and the future of healthcare in the United States. As an aspiring doctor, it was fascinating, and I learned so much!

Almost as crucial to our successful stay in the nation’s capital was the pursuit of cupcakes. D.C. seems also to be the nation’s capital of cupcakes, with shops dedicated to these miniature (or not) delights popping up in nearly every neighborhood. Georgetown alone had three “cupcakeries” within about a half-mile radius. The best part of all this? Nearly every shop we visited had a vegan option or two! Here I’ll profile my two favorites, Sticky Fingers Bakery (exclusively vegan!!!) and Baked and Wired.

Baked and Wired provided my second cupcake of the trip and probably my overall favorite. The shop itself is an adorable hipster haven, selling fair-trade coffee in addition to a plethora of quirky cupcake flavors including a bacon-topped one (not my personal choice, but props for the creativity?). It was right after marveling at that culinary oddity that my eyes fell on a true beauty. Chocolate and peanut butter have long been my absolute favorite flavor combo, and seeing any sort of chocolate peanut butter ice cream, cookie, or other dessert tends to plunge my normally disciplined mind into momentary food lust. This naturally occurred when I saw the decadent chocolate peanut butter cupcake smiling up at me from the display case. What I saw next on the colorful, hand-drawn label absolutely made my day. “VEGAN.” It was fate; who cares if I had just downed a carrot cake cupcake at Georgetown Cupcakes? That was like dinner. It had carrots. This had to be mine, though I did save it for after my real dinner. Baked and Wired did not disappoint. I had actually forgotten how good cake could taste, and this cupcake basically renewed my faith in all things sweet and rich and delectable. Well done.

I remembered to snap a picture midway through gorging myself. It got 17 well-deserved likes on Facebook.

And all this was before I even experienced the amazing vegan heaven on earth called Sticky Fingers Bakery! I didn’t actually have a cupcake here, but rather an absolutely fantastic brownie topped with coconut frosting. Outstanding. I heard the cupcakes were top-notch, too, as most of my friends opted to keep the cupcake streak going. We went to Sticky Fingers after lunch, but I wished I hadn’t eaten when I stepped in and saw that in addition to a full array of desserts, they also offered quite a lunch menu featuring quinoa salads, veggie hummus wraps, vegan cheese quesadillas, and veggie burgers, among other things. Although, since we went to Busboys and Poets, a very vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurant for dinner (and some awesome coconut ice cream for dessert), I think I did okay for the day. In summary, don’t be surprised if I take off for DC when I graduate.

See all these lovely morsels of goodness? They’re all vegan. Every last one.

Oh yeah, I was going to post a recipe! We also did a lot of our own cooking in DC, if you can imagine that. In an effort to utilize the last of our ingredients on the last night, we did a bunch of baking, too, and I whipped up this peanut butter cookie recipe. It was a hit, receiving the ultimate compliment: “How is this vegan? It’s so good!” I mean, I guess I’ll take that as a compliment…

Cookies!

4-ingredient Peanut Butter Banana Cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 extra-ripe banana
  • 1 cup peanut butter

Place in 1-2 inch balls on a cookie sheet, bake for 10 minutes, and you’re golden! (as the cookies should also be at this point). They really are that easy, and the peanut butter and banana basically take the place of the egg, butter, and sugar. You could even substitute whole wheat flour if you’re really going for healthy cookies. I can’t wait to make these again!

Thai Crunch Quinoa Salad

This recipe was inspired by my favorite dish at California Pizza Kitchen, the Thai Crunch Salad (hence the name). This uses quinoa as the base instead of Napa cabbage, so it’s a more filling, protein-packed entree, but it retains the flavors of cilantro, avocado, and Thai peanut sauce that I love in the original.

Thai Crunch Quinoa Salad

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1.5 cup frozen edamame
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, quartered and sliced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • small bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • ¼ c unsalted dry roasted peanuts

Cook quinoa in water, bringing water to a boil and then simmering 10-15 minutes.  Cook edamame according to package instructions and add to quinoa when finished, along with other ingredients and dressing.

Dressing

  • 2 tbsp natural almond or peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ cupwater

Combine all ingredients but almond butter and water and mix well.  Add almond butter and stir into liquid, adding water as needed to achieve consistent and creamy texture. Mix evenly into quinoa.

This can be served warm or refrigerated, but since I made it ahead of time for a dinner party, I served it chilled and it was great. The recipe serves at least 8.

Super Healthy Banana Bread

Banana bread has been one of my favorite treats since my pre-vegan days, and I’ve been trying for awhile to find a good, healthy recipe that rivals the non-vegan original my mom makes. This variety is 100% whole grain, low in fat and with no added sugars, but it is nonetheless moist and cake-like due to the use of sweet, ripe bananas along with one superfood that is also, as it turns out, a super baking ingredient: chia seeds. Combined with 1/4 cup of water for every tablespoon of seeds, they form a gel-like substance that makes as good an egg replacer as it does a pre-run energy gel.  Here’s the recipe.

  • 2-3 overripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp chia seeds mixed with 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4-1/2 cup walnuts, if desired
  • 1/4 cup oats to garnish the top of the loaf

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mash bananas with a fork or masher in a large bowl. Combine flour and other dry ingredients and add to bananas. Add chia seed mixture and vanilla extract, and mix well until all flour is incorporated into the dough. Lastly, add the walnuts. Grease a pan with vegetable oil or cooking spray, and pour in the batter. Cook for 45 minutes in a normal loaf pan, 25 minutes if using mini pans like I did here, or 20 minutes if making muffins (which I’ve also tried with this recipe!). Check to make sure the loaf is cooked, let it cool as necessary, and enjoy!

Curried Quinoa Salad

Hello internet, I’m back after two busy weeks! Lots of working, commuting, visiting, running, and, yes, cooking have gone by, yet I haven’t managed to come up with anything to post on here. Shameful. Mostly, I think, it’s that I need to get more in the habit of photographing my culinary creations. Don’t worry, I’ll work on it.

Anyway, this weekend I tackled a thirteen-mile long run, after which I needed a hearty, protein-filled meal to refuel the tank, so I made this spicy and delicious quinoa salad for dinner. The best part: it only takes 20 minutes to prepare!

Quick and easy, this tastes even better than it looks!

Curried Quinoa Salad

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup raisins

Cook the quinoa in the water with the spices, bringing to a boil and simmering 12-15 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the pepper and tomato and prepare all other ingredients. Add everything to the pot when the quinoa is done, and voila! Dinner is served.

 

It’s fruit season!

Happy 5th of July, friends. The past two days have been filled with friends and family and a lovely break from work, and somehow blogging didn’t happen … but cooking did! However, not much of it involved the stove, as temperatures were soaring into triple digits here in Chicago. Running was sparse and short thanks to the sweltering heat, so yesterday instead of pounding the pavement, I hit the pool to swim some laps.

I’ve made swimming once a week a priority this summer, and I love the full body workout it promises. It’s a totally different experience than running, requiring, for me at least, so much more mental coordination and focus on the task at hand. While a long run provides a welcome mental and physical escape from reality (plus the opportunity to jam out to One Direction undisturbed), swimming, to me, is arduous. To measure my distance I have to count my laps carefully – 32 times across the pool and back for a mile – while monitoring my stroke and making sure not to crash into the lanes. It takes an aggravating excess of time and effort to cover such a short distance in running terms too: once I tried to count by thinking of each 400 meters of swimming as a lap of a track, an analogy I would not recommend. However, all that effort makes it so rewarding. I’m doing something different, working my normally wimpy upper body, and hoping to race a sprint triathlon a month from now. I may even add an Ironman to my bucket list (though not just yet).

But back to the food: of the berry oatmeal breakfasts, summer strawberry salads, fruity smoothies, and of course tons and tons of watermelon I’ve been eating these past few days, I’ll share with you today my latest smoothie concoction, packed with superfoods and bursting with nutrients. Blueberries and strawberries provide huge amounts of potent antioxidants, kiwis bring more vitamin C than oranges, kale contains boatloads of vitamin K and C as well as fiber, antioxidants, and a healthy measure of calcium, and both flax and chia seeds provide omega-3′s, lignans, fiber, and protein. Drink to that!

Blue and Green Superfood Smoothie

Blue + green + yellow + red = purple! Lots of colors means lots of different nutrients.

 

 

  • 3 leaves kale, stripped from stems and ripped up
  • 3/4 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 kiwi, peeled
  • 4-6 strawberries, stems removed
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seeds
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds

Place all ingredients but the chia seeds in a blender, and mix until smooth. Stir in the chia seeds and let sit a few minutes to let them congeal. The kale adds a bit of a bitter kick, but the fruity flavors soon overpower it. By the time I was done I couldn’t tell the difference. Enjoy the drink, beat the heat, and soak in those nutrients!

 

Mexican Quinoa Salad

One of my favorite recipes!

This weekend, I had to bring a salad to a family function, so I went with this quinoa salad, a proven crowd favorite. I adapted the recipe from a Whole Foods cooking class  I attended in 2010 and have been enjoying it often since. Combining a familiar but no less delicious mix of Mexican flavors with the nutritious benefits of quinoa, a pseudograin with a complete amino acid profile, you can’t go wrong here!

For the Quinoa:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 tbsp lime or lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tbsp ground black pepper

For the toppings:

  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

Add all of the quinoa ingredients to the pot, bring to a boil, and simmer 12-15 minutes until all of the water is absorbed. Add the cilantro and mix, followed by the corn, beans, and veggies. If you’re not serving this immediately, it tastes great refrigerated as well; just save the avocado to add right before you eat. The spiciness level of this salad is fairly mild, but if you’re looking for an extra kick, adding some jalapeños or hot sauce will do the trick.

And you’re golden! :)