Black Bean Brownies

I’ve been working on perfecting a recipe for black bean brownies for about a week now. At first, I wasn’t even going to create a recipe, as Ricki Heller’s looked so good that I was just planning on making hers (sometimes I just want someone to take the guess work out of it for me, ok?). But when I went to make them, I realized that the recipe called for Baker’s chocolate, and all I had was cocoa powder. So I tried to see if I could compensate by changing around some other ingredients in the recipe. The first round of tweaking didn’t go so well (my fault, and nothing to do with the original recipe, as I had NO idea how to go about substituting cocoa powder for solid chocolate) but I saw potential. At that point I wanted to try and get it right, so I had to put Ricki’s recipe off for another day, and I tried again. A little closer that time, but just a little “wet.” The next time a bit dry. Then just right. The one problem was that they didn’t really seem to me like brownies. Gennaro certainly didn’t recognize them as brownies when he texted me one night (I was at class): “I really like those chocolate bar things in the fridge.” Whether or not they’re brownies or “chocolate bar things,” he liked them, which was a good sign.

This month, I am honored to be a part of 30 Days to a Food Revolution, a blogging event organized by Diane over at The W.H.O.L.E. Gang, which was inspired by Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Now, Jamie Oliver has received some backlash for his show (in addition to the loads of support), which has struck me as a bit odd. I understand that it’s a network show and that cynicism is inevitable when the guy starting the revolution is rich, famous and good-looking. But with diabetes and heart disease on the rise and obesity a growing problem (and increasingly among our younger generations), I wonder why there is such resistance to making some changes.

At the same time, I understand that food, like religion and politics, is personal. People don’t want to be told what to eat or what they shouldn’t be eating. I get this. I also get that people have come to view eating healthfully as somewhat of an elitist thing. As a law student (soon to be graduated law student looking for a job as a lawyer…in a bad economy) I’m well aware of the painfully high prices of organic foods, fresh produce, and specialty ingredients. But I also think that the assumption that a “food revolution” necessitates  an all-organic Whole Foods-esque lifestyle somewhat misses the point. From what I gather, Jamie Oliver’s goal is to reconnect people with what they are putting in their bodies. And it’s nearly impossible to connect with something when it’s passed to you through the window at a drive-through, or thrown into the microwave for a few minutes before it’s hurriedly eaten in your car.

My great-grandmother worked in the Detroit auto factories for most of her life. She wasn’t rich by any means. But she cooked real food. Whole foods. Cucumbers and tomatoes from her garden. Chicken paprikash and noodles and cabbage and goulash and fresh crepes. Some of my greatest childhood memories were at her house, and they revolved around her food. I’m not advocating that we all morph into Alice Waters overnight here. I’m just saying: home-cooked meals and family dinners and fresh dinners don’t have to be — and shouldn’t be — a privilege. My great-grandmother could tell you that. That’s why I think it’s great that Diane is trying to make healthy, whole food recipes accessbile for those who are interested in making a change, but don’t know where to start. Today’s my guest post, and I did my best to contribute a recipe that could be made from scratch, but was still healthy and cheap.

But there is one thing that I AM going to force on all of you. Today also happens to be Oprah’s “No Phone Zone” day, which means to make your car a no phone zone: DON’T TEXT AND DRIVE. It’s stupid. Really. If you agree, you should sign the pledge. Anyone who knows me well knows that I cry at the drop of the hat. Literally, you could probably drop your hat and I might cry about it. But all kidding aside, I REALLY don’t want to have to cry over any more Oprah episodes about people who’ve lost their lives because of texting and driving. THANK YOU.

Ok, back to the fun stuff: the brownies. You have to let these cool substantially before cutting into them. Better yet, cool them in the refrigerator a bit. Considering these brownies are grain-free, vegan, high in fiber, very low in sugar and a fairly decent source of protein and good fats, they’re also pretty darn good. But like I said, they’re not your typical brownie. A bit fudgey and gooey on the inside, but not very sweet, these treats are best referred to as “healthy brownie bars” so as not to confuse anyone looking for a classic brownie here. But for those looking for a much healthier option, these are a great alternative to the classic.

Brownie Bars:
Inspired by a recipe from Diet, Dessert and Dogs

1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup canned pumpkin puree

1/2 cup coconut oil (liquified first)

1/4 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

1/4 cup brewed coffee

1/2 cup flax seed meal

1 teaspoon vanilla stevia*

2 tablespoons agave nectar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder**

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup unsweetened carob powder

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a blender, on high speed, blend all ingredients except cocoa powder and carob. You may need to coax the mixture a bit with a spoon, but it will eventually get to a smooth consistency, which is where you want it. Pour mixture into a large mixing bowl and fold in cocoa powder and carob powder until incorporated.

3. Pour batter into a pre-greased 9×9 inch baking dish or brownie pan. Spread with a spatula or spoon to smooth. Bake in preheated oven for about 40 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. I would suggest waiting at least a few hours for brownies to cool before slicing and, better yet, letting chill in the refrigerator first.

* I used NuNaturals

** traditional baking powder is not technically grain-free, but for a grain-free baking powder recipe, check out Kelly’s over at the Spunky Coconut.

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Lite Raspberry Sorbet

The stevia streak continues, this time with a little flavor boost: vanilla. I’ve tried stevia in ice cream before with not so great results, so this raspberry ice cream — sorbet? sherbert? — came as a pleasant surprise to me. It had just the right amount of sweetness, no bitter aftertaste (my toughest dessert critic, Gennaro, can back me up on this) and a nice texture — if you eat it right away, that is. The longer this ice cream is left to set in the freezer, the more icy and flaky it becomes. Not inedible (and I imagine a good addition to a smoothie) but it’s annoying to wait for it to thaw back to a creamy consistency, which takes a bit of time.

So, it’s not perfect (re: the freezing-too-long issues mentioned above), but this ice cream is quite unexpectedly good considering it’s sugar-free, low calorie, vegan, and super simple to prepare. It’s an especially nice after-dinner sweet for when you’re — ahem — looking to fit into your wedding dress in August…

Stevia Raspberry Ice Cream:

2 cups frozen raspberries

1 tablespoon arrowroot

1 13.5-oz. can lite (or light) coconut milk

1/4 teaspoon vanilla flavored liquid stevia

Directions:

1. In a small saucepan, toss raspberries with arrowroot and heat over medium heat, stirring occassionally, until raspberries break down into a sauce-like texture. Set aside to cool.

2. Combine raspberry sauce with coconut milk and remaining ingredients in ice cream machine and prepare according to your machine’s directions.

Told you this one was simple!

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Carob Muffins

Since starting this blog, I’ve tried to make an effort to provide something for everyone. I think I’ve said this before, but I don’t think food allergies/sensitivities come in a vacuum. I’ve tried to make a point to provide some soy-free recipes here, some nut-free recipes, some grain-free, corn-free….you get the point. I like to diversify my flours, in case some people can’t tolerate a certain type. Believe me, I know as much as anyone that food intolerances can go beyond the typical and verge on the obscure. I’m allergic to pineapple, for example. Everytime I see a good recipe calling for pineapple, my heart sinks a bit.

But one area where I think I could improve on in the diversification department would be sugar substitutes. I know I’ve used Truvia on here occassionally, but for the most part I’ve been an agave monogomist — rarely straying from this recently controversial sweetener. While I’ll leave the agave bashing (or myth debunking) to the experts, I will say that too much of a good (or bad) thing is probably never good. And too much of one sweetener can’t be good, either.

So, I’ve been doing some experimenting. In my recent transfer to a (more) vegan diet, I’ve sort of eliminated the possibility of raw honey — or honey — as a sweetener. Even if vegans seem to differ on whether honey is acceptable, I’d rather not alienate anyone on a strict vegan diet. It’s also perhaps a bit higher on the glycemic index than I’d prefer, as is maple syrup. Xylitol scares me. I have a dog that eats anything and everything he can get his hands on, and while I make things with chocolate, from what I’ve heard, xylitol can be a lot worse. That leaves a few options, but the most popular, natural alternative would probably be stevia. While I mentioned that I’ve been using Truvia for a few recipes here and there, 1) I found out that bee pollen is used in the processing of erythtritol, which is used in Truvia, which makes it technically not vegan, 2) there is currently no bulk Truvia baking product, which can make things tricky sometimes, and 3) like I said, I like to diversify. So, back to stevia. It’s pretty popular these days. I’ve even received a few requests for some recipes using liquid stevia. But the truth is, my tastebuds, in general, have been rather intolerant of the stuff, so I’ve usually given up on it after a few baking attempts. But after my mom sent me a recent (I’m not sure entirely unbiased or accurate — but still pretty powerful) article about some of the “dangers” of agave nectar, I thought it couldn’t hurt to revisit liquid stevia.

A few of my favorite bloggers provided some inspiration here. These apple pumpkin crumble bars from the blog Diet, Dessert and Dogs look absolutely amazing (just be sure to look for certified gluten-free oats in the recipe — and to make sure you can tolerate oats in the first place!), as do these egg-free, grain-free brownies from Kelly over at The Spunky Coconut.

For my inaugural post utilizing liquid stevia, I went with carob muffins. These not-too-sweet muffins are simple, one-bowl operation. Like I said, they are not too sweet, so you may add in a few extra drops of stevia or a few tablespoons of your favorite liquid sweetener here. Or, alternately, you might try really ripe mashed bananas in place of the applesauce. I was going for a not-so-high-sugar fruit as bananas here, but if you want to use bananas I’ve tried carob muffins with banana before and think it’s the perfect combination.

Yield: 9 muffins

Stevia-Sweetned Carob Muffins:

1/2 cup sorghum flour

1/2 cup potato starch

1/4 cup flax seed meal

1/4 cup unsweetened carob powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 cup applesauce or mashed, ripe banana

2/3 cup almond milk or other dairy-free milk

1/4 cup grapeseed oil

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon + 3 drops liquid stevia, or more to taste

chopped, raw pecans for sprinkling

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together sorghum flour, potato starch, flax, carob, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

3. In a smaller mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix together until incorporated.

4. Drop batter by heaping 1/4 cups into a pre-greased muffin tin. Sprinkle tops with a few pecan pieces. Bake in preheated oven for about 25 minutes, or until tops bounce back when pressed down upon. Let cool in tin for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Salad with Tahini Dressing and Stevia Candied Walnuts

I’m packing up and headed to Michigan for a few days to visit my family, so I’ll make this one quick. It’s fitting, actually, because this hearty salad would make a relatively quick and healthy dinner. It’s also very amendable to variation, though you simply must give these sweet yet guilt-free candied walnuts a shot. The tahini dressing is a creamy, tangy and satisfying addition to salads. I imagine it would also make a great sauce for chicken kabobs. Other possible variations to the salad: chopped avocado, chickpeas, dried cherries or goat cheese.

Tahini Dressing:

1/4 cup tahini

1/3 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoons sea salt (or more to taste)

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped parsley (optional)

1-3 tablespoons water, as needed

Truvia Candied Walnuts:

1 tablespoon vegan buttery spread

1/2 cup walnuts

2 packets truvia (I don’t like to use Truvia anymore; try your favorite stevia and start with one packet then add more as needed)

pinch of salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)

Other Additions:

Bibb lettuce, spinach or romaine

Cooked beets

Cooked Lentils (I cook mine with a pinch of salt and a pinch of allspice)

Directions:

1. To make dressing: blend all ingredients in a blender, minus the water. If dressing is too thick, add water as needed to reach desired consistency. Season with more salt or pepper to taste.

2. To make candied walnuts: In a small saute pan, heat buttery spread over medium-high heat until it begins to bubble. Add walnuts and toss to coat. Saute for about a minute in the butter. Add truvia and salt — when added to the butter, the coating will begin to brown. Continue to toss walnuts in coating and saute for about 4 minutes, or until walnuts begin to brown. Cool walnuts on a flat sheet of parchment paper until hardened.

3. Assemble salad. Garnish with walnuts and drizzle with dressing.

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