black bean brownies

Black bean brownies

“Black Bean Brownies.” When I say these words together, people look at me like I’ve just offered them skunk on a skewer. Even my friend Tim wrinkled his face in disgust (over our vegan Thai dinner at Dao Palate last night) as I exclaimed that those were my project for the next day. But I’ve seen a lot of recipes for them and wanted to give them a try. After all, if avocado chocolate pudding was good, why not black bean brownies? And they’re gluten free (the beans act as a substitute for flour) and I’ve been promising my gluten-intolerant friend Erin some gluten-free recipes for some time now.

So, in my search for recipes, of course my favorite blog had just what I was looking for. Almost. The original recipe is here but I altered it quite a bit. See, I didn’t want to make a “healthy” brownie and then throw in a whole stick of butter. I’m sure it tastes amazing with a whole stick of butter, but it wasn’t quite as guilt-free as I wanted. So I did some research on butter substitutes in baking, and found out that if you’re baking something dark colored (like brownies), pureed prunes and maybe a touch of oil will substitute nicely. It was worth a shot. If the brownies were a disgusting mess, I’d just throw them out and try again with butter. Or oil. The other issue is that I don’t own an 11 by 18 inch baking pan – only 9 by 13 and smaller – so I divided the whole recipe by 3/4. So much room for disaster and failure it’s ridiculous. Substituting butter with prunes, using the wrong size pan, making 3/4 of the recipe (not even a nice round 1/2!), leaving out the walnuts (personally I like them, but I planned to give some of these to other people and some people aren’t nuts about nuts in brownies) and using espresso instead of coffee substitute. The whole time I was making them I couldn’t help thinking “these are going to be gross… so gross.”

Taste tester #1: Me! (come on, I’m not feeding crazy hippie brownies to other people without trying them first). NOT gross. Good! You can’t really taste the beans or prunes. I think the addition of the coffee is a crucial to mask the flavor. And as someone pointed out on Heidi’s blog, you could also add peanut butter if so inclined. They are fudgy, rich, and dense, just like brownies should be. They do taste kind of health-food-y… but, well, they are.

Taste testers # 2 and 3 will weigh in later… updates to follow.

(Side note: I felt it was my blogging duty to add a warning label. One probably should not consume too many of these at a time. Beans and prunes… both well known for their “digestive benefits.”)

mustard & ginger pickled carrots

Anyone who knows me knows that, at times, I can lack patience. Give me 200 screaming/whining/complaining teenagers at work and I’ll be fine; but putting me in a traffic jam or expecting me to wait for baked goods to cool before sampling them is just going to end badly. I think this is the reason I’ve never made pickles. Who wants to wait six weeks for vegetables to be ready? I tried pickling cucumbers and cauliflower once using this delicious leftover juice from some pickled radishes my friend got me at Brooklyn Larder, but I ended up breaking down and eating them after about a week. So when I came across a recipe for quick pickling (overnight!) I had to try it. This is from the same magazine by the way, as the grilled strawberry shortcake.
There were several different pickling recipes in the article, and I chose to make the carrot one because I had most of the ingredients already. Peel 10-12 medium sized carrots and cut them into matchsticks – imperfection is fine. Prepare a pot containing 3 cups of water, 2 cups distilled white vinegar, 3 tbs sugar, 3 tbs kosher salt, 3 quarter-size thin slices of fresh ginger, 4 garlic cloves thinly sliced lengthwise, 3 tbs yellow mustard seeds, 1 tbs coriander seeds, and 1/4 tsp red chile flakes (side note- I did not actually have mustard seeds or coriander seeds so I substituted a grainy mustard which is almost all seeds anyway and ground coriander). Bring everything in the pot to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for one minute. Then add the carrots and simmer for another 3 minutes or so. Let everything cool to room temperature and then chill overnight to let the flavors develop. Yes! Just one night.

mustard & ginger pickled carrots

raw food night

So I thought vegan week was a challenge but last night I tackled a three course 100% vegan RAW meal. My friend Rosi is doing a raw food diet cleanse for a week and I was very excited to have her over as my willing guinea pig. First of all, I’ll explain for those wondering “what’s the deal with raw foodism?” The raw food diet is based on the belief that the most nutritious food is uncooked, or heated to less than 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking can denature enzymes (which help us digest food, absorb nutrients, and slow the aging process), kill vital disease-fighting nutrients, and form potentially harmful compounds. Some people find it really beneficial and cleansing to eat raw for a week or two, though it can be harmful if done incorrectly for long periods of time.
Ok, now that you have the “why,” here comes the “what.” A thorough internet search for raw food recipes left me initially discouraged, as it seemed like 80% of them required using a food dehydrator for 10 to 12 hours. So I found this recipe for Raw Spinach Manicotti, which didn’t require any dehydrating, but still had some extensive commitment involved, as I had to soak sunflower seeds and sun dried tomatoes for 4-6 hours. Thank god for my awesome Cuisinart food processor (thanks mom!), which I used for almost every component of this meal! The sunflower seed “cheese” would not have fooled me in a blind taste test, but it was pretty good (I think lots of garlic did the trick) and the tomato sauce was great and I would even make that again for a regular pasta.

Raw spinach manicotti

I also made a side salad of jicama, cucumber, and mango tossed with lime juice, cayenne pepper, and sea salt… pretty much just because I was craving mango. Simple, fresh, summery.

Mango jicama salad

Chocolate avocado pudding

For dessert, I stole an idea from my friend Christy, Personal Trainer/Registered Dietitian/cook extraordinaire! Last fall she made this chocolate pudding using avocado and agave syrup and brought it to a potluck dinner. I know it sounds weird, but you can’t really taste the avocado and it’s the creamiest most delicious stuff ever. In a food processor, just throw in one ripe avocado, 1/4 cup agave nectar, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1/4 cup water, 2 tsp vanilla extract, and 1/4 tsp sea salt. When Christy made it she added shredded coconut on top – I opted for fresh strawberries since I had them left over from the other night’s grilled strawberry shortcake.

So I could totally eat raw food recipes (not all the time) if they didn’t take all day to make. Maybe a raw food week is in my future… one day. A great experiment, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Rosi is feeling after a whole week of this!

grilled strawberry shortcake

Grilled? Yes, grilled.

Last weekend I was at a friend’s place to feed and play with her cats while she was away. While waiting for the scaredy-cats to come out from under the bed, I flipped through a summer food issue of Sunset magazine, and this recipe caught my eye. Since strawberry shortcake is Chris’s absolute favorite dessert ever, and we were making dinner for a friend on Tuesday, I figured I’d throw this in for dessert. It’s so easy to do, and is an interesting twist on regular strawberry shortcake (which I think is kinda boring, sorry!). I do want to note that angel food cake was shockingly hard to find. I went to four stores looking for it, and finally found one lonely cake on the Key Foods shelf right before I was about to break down and bake it myself.

First, beat 1/2 cup of whipping cream together with 1/2 cup of crème fraîche, 2 tbs brown sugar, and the zest of 1/2 a lemon until it’s stiff and set aside. Put 5-6 tbs of strawberry jam in a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Using a pastry brush (or just dunk them), coat hulled strawberries with the jam. Cut chunks of angel food cake and thread strawberries and cake in an alternating pattern onto bamboo skewers. Grill the skewers (I just used my cast iron grill pan on the stove) for about 3-4 minutes and serve with the lemon cream.

Grilled strawberry shortcake with lemon cream

a simple summer pizza & salad

Even though the thought of turning my oven up to 500 in the summer makes me want to take an ice bath, I really wanted to make a simple summer pizza for dinner. I found this recipe for Caramelized Onion & Artichoke Pizza from Eating Well, and paired it with a salad of heirloom tomatoes, watermelon, cucumber, avocado, and basil, dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and ground coriander. Actually I used one yellow heirloom tomato, and a bunch of really fresh organic sliced grape tomatoes. I also bought pre-cut watermelon (if you think I’m buying a whole watermelon to tackle in a kitchen without counter space, you’re crazy). You could also add feta, or any sort of similar cheese, to this if you wanted.

Heirloom tomato & watermelon salad

For the pizza, I didn’t use the dough recipe they suggested. I wanted to use whole wheat dough, and intended to make it myself (you can just google whole wheat pizza dough recipes and find one you like), until I realized I was running out of time and ended up cheating and buying a round of pre-made whole wheat dough from one of my favorite stores, Union Market. Despite a few frustrations rolling out the dough (again, counter space… and the fact that my rolling pin is used to hold the window open), and the oven filling my apartment with smoke, it was a success! Really delicious. (And note: without the sprinkling of parmesan cheese, it would be totally vegan).

Caramelized onion & artichoke pizza