Saturday, February 25, 2012

Better-For-You Baking

Do you remember my post about a black bean brownie sometime in July 2011? After the copious amounts of baking brought on by, among other things, the start of this baking blog, I felt the need to "lighten up" some of my creations. I mean let's face it... I'm not going to stop baking, so I have to adapt it so as to ensure a level of healthfulness for myself and my family. Enter the black bean brownie.

The first time I made these, they was devoured within a few hours. I had made a half batch just to test it out, and although these are called brownies, I'd make sure to inform the eager taste testers, especially the grown ups, that they are black bean brownies, a healthy alternative to the real deal. Thankfully, any food item (broccoli, perhaps? I have to give that a try) in the form of dessert is excitedly welcomed by my kids, though I guess some kids would be better off without that candid mention. Although it was a successful swap-out for the caloric heaviness and fatty decadence of an authentic brownie (truly, nothing can replace that), I felt it could use a lititle jazzing-up to add some interest and textural contrast to it.
We all know about those fabulous brownies with cheesecake swirl incorporated, right? Well, what better way to add some pizazz to these otherwise simple black bean brownies? The result, I am happy to report, was an ooey-gooey, creamy, and let's not forget, healthy delight...!
I must admit,  I enjoyed them far better after they had been cooled in the refrigerator. The cold creaminess of the cheesecake swirl hit the spot. I suggest you do the same. :-)

I highly recommend you to try this recipe. I have a massive sweet tooth, and I used the lesser amounts of the sugar in the recipe and it was the right amount for me, but you decide what works for you! It is dessert, after all..!
 This brownie is great if you have kids and want to up their fiber and protein or if you are on a gluten-free diet or are trying to eat less of those evil carbs (as I am)... :-) Quite honestly, you don't have to prescribe to any of the above criteria to try these brownies... They are simply a healthy variation of a dessert classic.

Black Bean Brownies with Peanut Butter Cheesecake Swirl
(Brownie recipe adapted by

For the brownies:
1 15.5 oz can of black beans, well rinsed and drained
3 eggs
2 T canola oil
1/4 c cocoa (I used Hershey's Cocoa Powder)
1/4 t salt
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 to 3/4 c sugar (or sugar substitute), depending on the size of your sweet tooth
1 t baking powder
1/2 t instant coffee or espresso granules
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

For the swirl:
6 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 c peanut butter
1/3 to 1/2 c sugar (or sugar substitute), again depending on the size of your sweet tooth
1 t vanilla
1 egg
1/8 t salt
2 T milk

1/4 c mini chocolate chips (optional, but highly recommended)

Prepare an 8"x8" square ban with parchment lining leaving an overhang on two opposite sides of the pan for easy removal of the brownies later. In a blender or food processor, combine all of the ingredients for the brownies. Blend on high until all the ingredients are well combined and the mixture is smooth. Ensure that there are no lumps in the batter. Pour the batter into your prepared 8"x8" square pan.
In a mixer, combine all the cheesecake swirl ingredients and blend until well incorporated and smooth. Drop spoonfuls of the cheesecake batter randomly onto the unbaked brownies. Take a butter knife and swirl to your heart's content. Remember that the more you swirl, the less "swirl" will be apparent in the outcome. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of mini chocolate chips over the top. Bake at 350F for around 35-40 minutes or until the brownies are set. Let them cool in the pan completely. Then remove the brownies from the pan and cut as desired. Store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Friday, February 17, 2012

I Heart Heart-Day...

Valentine's Day was earlier this week and I hope you all had a wonderful one! If I was more organized, I would have posted on Valentine's Day, but of course, that isn't the case. In fact I am always running after my schedule...I need to take the lead at some point!
Since I have an overwhelming penchant for sweet things, it would stand to reason that Valentine's Day is one of my favorite holidays. And it's true. I usually like to prepare a special breakfast and dessert for my family. So, to start off the morning, I made them chocolate brownie pancakes with strawberry sauce and cream. It was easy to throw together in the morning and was a breakfast filled with love and hearts - chocolate pancake hearts, that is... The recipe is below and they are a welcome alternative to regular pancakes and not as unhealthy as its name implies.
For dessert, I made pink French macarons with chocolate ganache filling as well as pink velvet cupcakes with coconut curd filling and white chocolate buttercream. The macarons, however time consuming, are so delish that they are worth the extra effort. Plus, you can fill them with any number of fillings - ganache, buttercream, jam, curd, custard, Nutella, peanut butter, Biscoff... the list goes on. But don't think you need to fill them either. They are fabulous on their own. The recipe I follow is from It's a well-written recipe that is easy to follow.

The cupcakes were decorated as roses, something I've wanted to do for a long time. It was fun and I was happy with the results.

Lastly, I made a bunch of red and white cookies and cream truffles to fill an order.

As you can see, I tried experimenting with photo editing techniques to further exemplify the Valentine's Day spirit... They are an attempt to bring the romance out of these treats... :-) I hope your Valentine's Day was as fun as mine was..! Try your hand at making chocolate brownie pancakes, and if you're feeling a little more ambitious, French macarons...!

Chocolate Brownie Pancakes

1 cup all purpose flour
1 t baking powder, heaped
1/4 cup + 1 T cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Cocoa Powder)
2 T granulated sugar
1/2 t salt
3 T vegetable or canola oil
1 egg
1 T vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk

Whisk all the dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine all the wet ingredients. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined. Lumps are ok. Let the batter sit for about 5 minutes. Over a hot (nonstick, preferrable) griddle, pour 1/4 cup of your pancake batter. When the edges begin to bubble, flip your pancake and leave it to cook through for another minute.
Serve warm with homemade strawberry sauce (recipe below), cream, and maple syrup.

(adapted from Tracey's Culinary Adventures)

Quick Strawberry Sauce

1 pint hulled & cleaned strawberries, chopped in large chunks
3/4 c water
3/4 c granulated sugar

Over a medium flame, heat the sugar and water until boiling to make a simple syrup. Turn the flame to medium/low and carefully add the strawberries and cook until the strawberries start to break down, around 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Homemade Jams

The other day on TV, I saw a show where a bunch of well-known chefs went around NYC to various markets and restaurants collecting food that was headed to the dumpster. This food was by no means bad, spoiled, or inedible. It was fresh and perfectly good food to cook with and consume. And there were copious amounts of it too! In fact, one guest on the show regularly spent his evenings "grocery shopping" through the garbage bags put outside of these markets and restauraunts. You might say he's a modern day hunter-gatherer.
The food he collected consisted of produce that may have had a few blemishes and meats and dairy nearing their expiration date which made them less appealing to the overly-discerning customers of today. But what a travesty to discard of all this food when there are millions of people starving in the U.S.?! It was eye-opening and quite painful to learn that such markets and restaurants do not have a mandatory program under which they must direct these items to food banks and soup kitchens locally. It broke my heart.
With that in mind, I've been trying to be more efficient with the food I buy. Sometimes, though we are inevitably left with more food than we know what to do with. So, if foods are beginning to go south, I have been tring to come up with ways to save them and prolong their shelf life. For example, a few weeks ago, I had a bunch of strawberries that I had purchased from the market. They were so inexpensive, I had to stock up, but I could only eat so many of them. My kids eat like birds, so they didn't eat too many either and quite frankly, my husband would rather eat a meatball hero than a handful of strawberries. So I was left with quite a few strawberries.

Well, when life gives you strawberries, make strawberry jam. If packaged and sealed properly in sterile jars, they will last for up to a year in your pantry! Jam is such an easy food to make that is versatile in its use. They make super gifts too!
Here is the recipe that I use to make my delicious jams:

Berry Jam

1 pint of fruit (any berry or combination of berries)
1 t lemon juice
1/4 to 1/2 cup granulated white sugar (if the fruit is sweet, use less sugar, to taste)
1/4 cup water

Bring the sugar and water to a boil over medium heat. Add in your cleaned berries and lemon juice and stir to coat. Bring jam back to a boil and then turn down the heat to simmer for about 10 minutes or until thickened. You can use a potato masher to break up the berries while they are cooking for a less lumpy consistency. Meanwhile, in a large, deep pot, bring water (about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pot) to a boil. Insert your washed mason jars, lids and all, fully immersed for 10 minutes. Using tongs and very carefully, remove the jars and lids and place on a clean paper towel, mouth side up. Your jars are now sterilized. Once the jam is thickened, spoon it into your sterilized mason jars to about 1/2" from the tops and tighten the lids. Carefully insert the jars (lids well tightened) back into the pot of boiling water. Make sure the jar is completely immersed (the tops of the jars are 2" from water level) and let it sit for 10 minutes as the water continues to boil. Then turn the stove off and let the jars sit for an additional 5 minutes. Again very carefully, remove your jars from the water and set them on a kitchen towel to come to room temperature. After several hours and once cooled, if you press on the lids you will notice that it has sunken down and doesnt make a popping sound. This confirms that your jars have been correctly sealed. Jams such as this one may be stored for up to 1 year in a dark, dry and cool area such as your kitchen pantry. Once opened, use within two weeks and store in the fridge.
*Note: Different types of fruits and foods need different canning times and methods. You can refer to a canning chart or click on this link for helpful and safe canning information.

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Today is the biggest day of the year for football fans, not that I'm one, but I'll go with it. :-) It's the 46th Superbowl - the New York Giants vs. New England Patriots which will undoubtedly prove to be an epic showdown. True to my NY roots, Go Giants! In honor of this fun football day, I made a football cake - two color-coordinated vanilla cake layers sandwiching a delicious cannoli cream filling and frosted in a chocolate ganache frosting.

However you are watching the game and celebrating today, make sure to do it safely... Happy Superbowl!!