The Best Chocolate Chip Banana Bread (non-vegan or vegan)

What to do with overly ripe bananas – I say, let them ripen & ripen until overripe and make some banana bread!

Ingredients:

4 ripe bananas

1/2 cup / 125 g butter or vegan margarine

2 eggs or substitute them with egg replacer powder accordingly (or 1 egg = 1 TSP baking powder + 1/2 TSP baking soda + 2 TBSPs flour + 3 TBSPs water – all mixed well)

1 cup / 215 g raw brown sugar

1,5 cups / 250 g flour

1 TSP baking powder

1 TSP vanilla extract

1/2 TSP salt

1/2 TSP cinnamon

1 cup / 170 g chocolate chips

BananaBreadMixture

Preparation:

Preheat your oven (fan) to about 350ºF / 180ºC.

Mash the bananas until fine & smooth. In another bowl melt the butter or margarine, let it cool down a bit and fold in the sugar. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, vanilla extract & cinnamon in yet another bowl. Add two beaten eggs (or the egg replacement) and the butter / sugar mix to the banana mash and combine well, then mix in the combined dry ingredients. Fold in the chocolate chips and pour all into a well-greased loaf pan.

Bake for about an hour – my banana bread took 50mins to bake, so definitely check it with a cake tester (you can also use a skewer or toothpick).

BananaBread

Advertisements

The Most Special Day back in July 2014

Usually I wouldn’t write about my private life but there was one event so special & beautiful that I just have to write about it. I am talking about my media naranja’s & my wedding last year, on the 18th of July 2014 to be precise. I don’t want to bore you with yet another wedding day story – I just want to share some short inputs & impressions with you regarding the preps for the big day & the celebration itself. I found reading such descriptions quite useful when it came to getting everything planned. In the end every couple is different and has a different approach to how their special day should be like, but it’s still nice to get some input from people that ‘survived it’ successfully. 😉

Before sending out invitations / save the date cards, (that we ordered via Minted.com which offers an amazing wide range of designs, that please all different tastes out there, plus ships to Europe, as well – another great fact about Minted is that you support individual designers with your choice!), we set up a wedding website including all necessary information for our guests (like the wedding day agenda, wedding dinner options, wish list, public transport options, city maps, accommodation / restaurant / cafe / club & bar recommendations, basically whatever kind of information you consider necessary for your guests) via Zankyou.com. This free of charge website offers a variety of helpful applications such as designing a seating plan or sending out update / notification emails to your guests. This saves you some money & time as you won’t need a wedding planner for these things and can centralise all the information via a website.

Speaking about wedding planners, I am sure they make sense if you don’t have much time and can’t be bothered in your spare time to prepare a huge wedding, but in our case – planning a smaller event – we didn’t need a wedding planner in the end. Luckily we both knew what we wanted and it wasn’t too difficult to find the right partners for that purpose after researching a bit on the www.

In Carme Trias we encountered a very talented Barcelona designer. She designed both our stunning wedding dresses according to our personal preferences (and in my case drawings). Check out her small shop in Gràcia, Barcelona by going to Modart or their Facebook account.

MyWeddingDress

My design

Weddin

The Outcome

One thing that gave us a lot of headache were the shoes. We thought so much about that topic and changed our minds that often that we did almost go crazy. And then it occurred to us: do something different and walk through your wedding day in plain & simply stylish comfort. Yes, we ordered custom-made Converse according to our designs and our friends from England luckily got them for us since you can’t place orders except for when you’re located in the UK or the USA (so make sure you know someone in one of those places in order to design your own Converse).

CustomizedConverse

So we also had to get around during our big day – from our stunning prep place (that we found via Airbnb and which is just a perfect option if you need a lot of space in order to get ready separately and to hang out with friends & family before & after the wedding, instead of opting for the rather typical & much more expensive wedding night at a hotel) to the wedding ceremony at the town hall in Gràcia, from there to the photo shoot in the Raval & on Montjuic and then up to the restaurant for reception & dinner.

OurDecadentApartment

One room of our stunningly beautiful & decadent Modernisme style wedding apartment booked via Airbnb

Regarding our means of transport, we were lucky to find Conducir Clásicos, which is a great local company that hooked us up with a super trendy & restored T2 Caravelle van plus driver.

T2Caravelle

Our very original T2 Caravelle Wedding Van

We loved being driven around in the Caravelle and it was such a big surprise for our wedding guests – everyone marvelled at it – and it also made a stunning model during the wedding photo shoot which has been provided by our great professional photographers Anna & Gustavo from Nice Tales : Photography – also check out their Facebook page.

Being from a Northern European country, our families expected to greet us with a glass of Cava after the wedding ceremony in Gràcia’s town hall, but one really important fact to know about Spain in general is that it is illegal to drink alcohol publicly on the street. So we needed a convenient solution which consisted in crossing the plaza in front of the town hall and doing an afternoon Pica Pica (which is made of different salty snacks) combined with a glass of Cava in order to keep everyone going (note that temperatures around July can go up to 40ºC here, so people from colder countries really appreciate to get some sugar & drinks in-between ). We found the tasty & vibrant restaurant Amélie which offered just what we needed, and their lovely & talented chef Carlos even did our wedding bouquets & the floral table decoration at the restaurant we had booked for our dinner. The Pica Pica & Cava we had chosen together with enchanting & professional Yasmine and creative chef Carlos was just delicious and I recommend going to Amélie for lunch or dinner – they also host small concerts.

PicaPicaAmélie

Delicious Pica Pica at Amélie

We negotiated reception, a dinner menu (which has been put together by us according to our taste) with vegan options, and dance (they provide you with a DJ that will play your choice of music) with the magical & super good restaurant Can Travi Nou (also see their Facebook for updates). We’ve had lunch and dinner there before and owners as well as staff are just incredibly professional & attentive. I highly recommend Can Travi Nou for whatever kind of celebration with friends & family or for official company dinners / events. The food is supreme and meets the expectations of a Catalonian gourmet as well as it provides a delicious insight into fine Catalonian dining to the foreigner.

CanTraviNou

Can Travi Nou is a charming & magical old Catalonian Masia (farm house) converted into a supreme restaurant specialised in Catalonian & Mediterranean cuisine

A very special moment for us was when our stunning & delicious wedding cake was delivered by Sibarum cakes & catering (check their Facebook or website for further information and contact). We chose the design and taste together with the amazing mother & daughter team from the Sitges’ based pastry shop and they have been so lovely & professional, so creative & supportive throughout the whole pre-wedding process, that apart from receiving the best wedding cake ever plus some vegan cupcakes (which they all personally delivered!), a friendship has formed, and we highly recommend them whenever you need a cake, other baked treats or catering for your celebrations & events.

Sibarum Wedding Cake

That is one tasty & beautifully stunning wedding cake

Something that is not to be forgotten regarding all the planning for a wedding day are all the other creative preps and decoration tasks that you need to confront & undertake: we translated the wedding ceremony for our no Spanish speaking guests; looked for some personal wedding guest favours (that we found at Del Pot Petit while strolling over the weekend artisan market down at Passeig Joan de Borbó, and which consisted in a beautifully wrapped mini marmalade jar and a miniature bottle of ecological Virgin Olive Oil); got the artistically & beautifully arranged flower bouquets & rustic floral table decoration (that was a perfect fit for the rustic Masia) from Amélie’s chef Carlos; designed, bought and crafted all the other table, candy bar and photo booth deco; chose the music for the DJ set; etc.

TableDeco

Our personally designed & crafted table decoration

So, of course, in order to be able to come up with all of this you need time, motivation, negotiation skills, a certain amount of creativity and very, very good friends & family members that are willing to go the extra mile with & for you (a big THANK YOU goes out to all our family members & friends that by helping us decorate the tables, doing our hair & make-up [I recommend getting your wedding make-up trial done for free at Sephora] just like the most professional hair & make-up artists do, helping us get dressed, shopping for & making our dinner the night before, guiding guests to the restaurant, helping us transporting back the decoration afterwards in the middle of the night, etc., made our day so much easier – but there’s a lot of input out there and people are generally willing to help, especially when it comes down to a personalised event as a wedding. As I said, I don’t think a wedding planner is always necessary – who knows best what you as a couple want if not you and who could describe what makes your day special better than you!? In the end you’ll have roamed a lot of websites and will have found your personal preferences regarding all what makes your wedding day and you make the decision to get help from outside in form of a wedding planner or to go ahead yourself. It may sometimes seem to you that you’re stuck in the process and in so many things to do that you are about to lose yourself and give in to complete, disastrous pre-wedding despair… In those moments just sit down, have a good tea or latte and enjoy the day – do something completely different. That will help you relax and you’ll be able to focus on the wedding planning at a later moment. As someone who ‘survived’ all the craziness, I am available to provide some further insight into the organisation of our wedding and the according details, and can be contacted through eMail to laravalerablog@gmail.com .

My style TLC Spanish Chickpea White Bean Stew (vegan – or non-vegan)

I just love to feel comfy & warm – especially now that it’s cold outside. And I love to eat soups and hearty dishes when it’s that time of the year. So what do you get when you combine a soup with a hearty dish?: a comfort food stew!

Ingredients:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Chorizo (if you opt for the non-vegan version – cut it up a bit, so the juices can get out while cooking)

1 white onion, chopped

2 green Italian peppers, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

______________________________

optional:

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 big carrot, cut into quarters and then into fine slices

1 big potato, diced

______________________________

400g chickpeas (soak them in water overnight or use a jar of pre-cooked ones)

400g white beans (soak them in water overnight or use a jar of pre-cooked ones)

500-750ml vegetable broth (depending on the desired consistency – you’ll get some thickness from the beans)

salt

white ground pepper

about 2 TSPs smoked paprika spice (Spanish one, if possible – I really recommend using this one as it provides the needed smokiness for the vegetarian/ vegan version)

Pimenton de la Vera

Preparation:

Pour about 4 TBSPs of olive oil into a cooking pot, add the onions, the carrots and the smoked paprika spice to the cold olive oil, stir well and let them cook at high heat for about 2mins. Lower the heat to a medium heat and add the garlic, the chorizo (for the meaty version), your Italian peppers and the red bell pepper. Let it simmer for about 5-8 more minutes.

Now add 500-750ml of vegetable broth and the diced potato and bring to a boil. Lower the heat again, but make sure it keeps boiling. After 5 more minutes add the rinsed chickpeas. Boil on medium to low heat for 10 more minutes until the potato dices are fully cooked. Now add the rinsed white beans, let them heat up and season everything with salt and pepper according to taste, switch off the hotplate, but leave the covered cook pot on, so the taste develops. The stew will taste better the next day, as most stews do.

Spanish Chickpea Bean Stew

The Healthier Option: Unfried Sweet Potato Fries

Love sweet potato fries? Me, too! Since I had that delicious treat for the first time back in 2010 in NYC, I’ve always preferred them as a side or a snack whenever available. I’m not a huge fan of fried food usually, and I like it healthy so since they are in season over here at the moment, I thought let’s give it a go and bake them in the oven. And the result was oh sooo good! This is yet another super easy recipe and just perfect for a snack or as a side dish.

Ingredients:

1 huge sweet potato or basically as many as you like or as many as your baking tray can hold 😉

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Fleur de Sel or sea salt

Sweet Potato Fries

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan). Meanwhile peel the sweet potato(es) and cut it into evenly long pieces. Line out your baking tray with parchment paper and spread the sweet potato pieces all over it. Drizzle some Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I used a pastry brush to glaze all sweet potato pieces evenly with olive oil) over them and season your fries with salt. If you like the taste you can furthermore season them with freshly ground black pepper.

Cook the fries during 20mins – if finely cut they shouldn’t take longer than that.

Recommendation: Serve them with some BBQ sauce – that is just an unbeatable combination!

Why a handwritten letter is still better than an email

In times of constant connection & availability, old-fashioned letter writing sort of moved to the darkest corner of our constantly connected conscience. I even dare to say that younger generations never even wrote a letter. What’s most likely is that kids nowadays swap the typical hastily scribbled notes on torn pieces of paper during lessons under the angry eyes of their teachers. At least that’s what I hope they’re still doing. But that doesn’t come close to a proper letter.

When I talk about writing a letter, I don’t mean a postcard, a note, an email or a Facebook message. I mean, sitting down with some nice paper, your pen of choice, an envelope, stamps, and most of all the right (writing) mood, amongst other things.

I started thinking about this topic back in early November last year. In my life I’ve had two constant pen-pals. One from Spain and the other one from England. The latter one became my closest friend and I still regard her as that and furthermore as a close family member. We’ve been writing long, book-like letters since I was about 11 years old and this is probably the closest I’ve ever come to writing a journal. I think, I never felt the need to since I had my constant written exchange and correspondence with those two people in other countries, that many times felt so much closer to me than most of the people surrounding me. As years passed by, things changed, the internet came and with it emails, Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype, forums for whatever kind of topic, etc. that made big, worldwide social and professional networks and their according constant information and communication (instant) flow & exchange possible. I guess, people born after the 80s might even take it for granted to receive a message, a voicemail, a picture almost the same moment it’s been sent independent of the location of its sender and recipient. I remember I exchanged mix-tapes with my pen-pals on which I also recorded a personal message for them – something one might call a voicemail.

So the occasions when I actually sat down and wrote a letter or even received one became more and more seldom over the years. Last year – with all the things that happened up to that point and on from then – I decided it was more than time again to sit down and start to write a letter. But it’s not that easy anymore. And this is not just because my life is a bit more busy than it used to be when I was 11 years old. Apart from having enough time to write one of those book-like letters, there’s also my personal need for being in the right writing mood, then the need for the right place to be in, having various decent lattes available, feeling ‘inspired’ and awake enough to keep on writing and overcoming the pain in my right hand since I am not used to handwriting anymore. I was shocked to realise that my hand started aching tremendously after having written the first half DIN A4 page (plus about all those spelling errors that I couldn’t just erase and replace by the right words after autocorrect had overflown it). This doesn’t happen while happily typing away an email or a Facebook group message. At least not to me. Well, so it took me about 1 month to write down about 8 pages. But I made it and I am very happy about that. Whenever I felt in the right mood for writing, I forced the other circumstances and myself and picked up where I last left it. It seemed ages to me that I carried around that half finished letter!

Good time for writing

The thing about putting something down on paper in your own handwriting (not even printed out after typing it into your PC), is that it is just something very personal and beautiful, even something vulnerable in its own way. You really give away something from yourself to someone. It’s brought down on paper and apart from the ink of the pen and the words you chose, the recipient will read you and your mood between the lines, will realise how your handwriting changes and what it looks like: if it’s steady and clear, or hasty, narrow, round, small, etc. All those things are able to characterise and define us partly and this is why you’re giving away something personal, only owned by you up until then, through a handwritten letter. It’s a big gift in my eyes and it’s something there to stay if regarded as that special gift by its recipient. It’s not virtual. You have to take it into your hands, touch it, you can feel it, and bring it up close to you in order to read it. You don’t have the distance between you and your PC screen. Sometimes you can even smell a letter, its paper and ink (I remember sending letters including dried flowers).

Maybe those are the reasons why I felt so intensely and deeply disappointed when the letter hadn’t arrived after having posted it more than a month ago. I felt cheated on. My friend asked me if I could print it out again, and in that moment I felt hurt. Not by her, obviously, but by the simple fact that even though a handwritten letter is not as easy to get rid of as an email or a word document, which we just move into our virtual bin to be emptied the moment of our choice, it is not that easy to ‘restore’ a lost letter. No hacker or computer geek could help us in that case. The only thing that remains as a possibility to save it is by re-writing it and if you don’t have that backup copy (which I usually don’t but I am thinking about photocopying my future written correspondence) or a photographic memory, you’ll never be able to recreate that exact same letter, transmitting the same mood and feelings through the same words, paragraphs, handwriting style, etc. that you had while you brought your words down to paper for the first time.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when the Spanish, English or whatever post finally transported it to its rightful addressee.  Plus I am now looking forward to receive an answer!

Vegetarian / Vegan Cottage Pie

It’s winter in the Northern hemisphere and even for us people living in the Mediterranean it’s cold, and we long for hearty dishes that make us feel warm and comfort us through a cold evening. So what’s better than a delicious vegetarian (or even vegan) Cottage Pie?

Cottage Pie

Ingredients (for about 4 big servings):

vegetable oil

1/2 chopped onion

2 big chopped carrots

2 chopped garlic cloves

300 g Quorn Mince (alternatively [and vegan!] use several times washed, drained and crumbled firm tofu that you season with salt, pepper and smoked paprika spice, [add some mustard for the extra kick if you like] – for people living in Barcelona: you can buy frozen vegetarian mince at the Mercat de Santa Caterina)

gravy (use instant one or make your own: Fry some chopped onion (about 1/4) using 2 TBSPs vegetable oil until golden brown; sprinkle in about 1-2 TBSPs of flour and stir well until all flour clumps are removed. Cook while stirring well over a medium heat until the flour-onion mix is light brown. Add vegetable broth [about 250 ml or more depending on your desired gravy thickness], and keep stirring until your gravy is smooth and season with salt and pepper.)

about 100 g fresh or frozen peas

chopped chives and parsley

salt and freshly ground pepper

For the mash:

3 big potatoes

butter or margarine

3 TBSPs of cream (vegan soy cream)

about 30 ml of milk (for a vegan version, use soy milk for example)

salt

pepper

ground nutmeg

Preparation:

Dice the potatoes and bring them to a boil. While they are boiling, heat up some vegetable oil (I recommend rice or sunflower oil as it has a rather neutral flavour) and add the onion and the garlic. Let the onion garlic mix cook over a medium heat and before it turns golden, add the chopped carrots. Keep stirring the vegetable mix from time to time to prevent burning. Incorporate the vegetarian / vegan mince and add more vegetable oil if necessary since it tends to soak up the oil quite quickly so you might need to add more. Season it with a bit of salt and pepper, but do not over season since you’ll later on add the already seasoned gravy, as well. When the mince veggie mix is cooked, add 250 ml of vegetable gravy and bring to a gentle boil. Add the frozen or the already cooked fresh peas and the chives / parsley mix, taste it and season more if necessary, and put aside when done.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (grill function).

Once the potatoes are cooked, drain the water and add 1 TBSP margarine or butter and mash them up. Add the cream and milk until you reach your desired mash texture – it should be smooth but not runny / liquid. Season it with salt, pepper and ground nutmeg spice.

Add the vegetable mince mix to a big casserole dish and cover it with the potato mash. Use a fork to get the riffled top structure. Leave it in the oven until golden brown.

Cottage Pie Ready

Crème Brûlée – the classic version

Creme Brulee

Many people love it and yet think Crème Brûlée is a super complicated dessert to make. Of course, you need a few basic tools in order to prepare it correctly, but those are all things easy to access (ovenproof moulds, a small blow torch), and surely you can borrow them from one of your gourmet friends if you don’t want to purchase them. I made it quite a few times and it’s become my favourite dessert.

Starting with the ingredients (makes about 5-8 servings according to the mould size):

750 ml liquid cream (at least 32% fat content)

250 ml milk

200 g sugar

12 egg yolks

1 scraped vanilla bean

raw sugar to caramelise the cooked crème brûlée

Preparation:

In a big bowl mix all the ingredients. Make sure the sugar dissolves completely. Fill the liquid mix into ovenproof crème brûlée moulds or similar (small tapas dishes do the same trick) and put them onto a baking tray. Transfer the baking tray into the oven and fill it with water until the water mark around the little moulds is about 2cm high.

Cook during at least 1h at 100ºC in a fan oven. Check the crème brûlée after 1 hour by moving the moulds a little bit – it should wobble a little but not too much. It shouldn’t need longer than 1h and 15mins in the oven to cook.

Let the crème brûlée cool down and sprinkle some raw sugar over it, which you caramelise with the help of a blow torch (DO NOT use a lighter – that only results in nasty and painful burns).

Store up to 3 days in the refrigerator.