Au Naturel Essence

All natural treats for body and soul


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Black Bean Brownies

As a chocolate lover, I can’t imagine making brownies without some actual chocolate.  In fact, you’ll find a really easy and intensely chocolate recipe for brownies right here on my blog.

And then, that changed.

I found a recipe for Black Bean Brownies on Pinterest and pinned it to my Cleaner Eating board.  The pin links to a recipe on the Dr. Oz site for fudgy black bean brownies.  In my quest for cleaner recipes that still indulge my sweet tooth, I thought I’d give it a try.

Delicious Black Bean Brownies

Delicious Black Bean Brownies

The Recipe:

This is the recipe, as it’s found on the website.

Ingredients
2 cups cooked black beans or canned no-salt-added or low-sodium black beans, drained 
10 Medjool dates
2 tbsp raw almond butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup natural, non-alkalized cocoa powder
1 tbsp ground chia seed
Raspberries or other berries for topping

Directions
Preheat oven to 200°F. Blend the black beans, dates, almond butter and vanilla in a food processor or high powered blender until smooth.

Add the remaining ingredients and blend again. Pour into a very lightly oiled 8×8-inch baking pan and bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Cool completely before cutting into small squares. Top with raspberries or other berries.

Recipe courtesy of Dr. Joel Fuhrman.

My Method

I followed the recipe with a couple of minor exceptions.

I omitted the chia seeds because I didn’t have any in the house.  Also, I didn’t make any kind of fruit topping for the brownies.

I blended all of the ingredients as directed.  This actually took quite a bit of time and elbow grease as the mixture was not very liquidy.  However, after some stirring, mashing and blending, I was able to achieve a smooth consistency.  Here’s a shot of the beans, dates, and almond butter before the blending began.

Dates, Black Beans, and Almond Butter

Dates, Black Beans, and Almond Butter Dates and Black Beans

Also, the recipe directs you to “pour” the mixture into the pan.  My mixture was very smooth, but not pourable.  So, I used a spoon to dig it out of the blender and then spread it around to the best of  my ability.

Black Bean Brownies - ready for the oven

Black Bean Brownies – ready for the oven

The Result

After very patiently allowing these brownies to cool for hours, I cut them into 16 squares.  They cut easily and didn’t stick to the pan.  Do they pass for brownies?

Absolutely!

The cocoa powder gives them a great chocolate flavour.

The dates sweeten them nicely.

The black beans lend a nice texture to the treat.

I can definitely tell that they’re not full of sugar.  I like that.

They feel like an indulgence, which is exactly what I want to feel when I eat a brownie.

Black Bean Brownies

Black Bean Brownies


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Baby Food

Babies can definitely have a different palette than adults.  Not only is it different, it changes over time.  When you’re trying to prepare food for a baby that has limited ability to express himself, this can be a challenge!

Introducing Solids

I started giving solid food to my little guy at around the six month mark.  At first, he didn’t know what to do with the food.  Though he would be busy “chewing” any time he saw someone else eating food, when I finally give him his own food, he was a bit bewildered.

After a few tries, he got the hang of it and we were off to the races.   He started with brown rice and then quickly moved on to pears, sweet potato, carrots, and apples.

If you follow my blog, you would probably guess that I was determined to make my own baby food.  For the most part, I have and I feel really good about knowing exactly what I am feeding him.

Baby Food on the Go

That’s not to say that he hasn’t tried lots of store-bought organic baby foods.  They are easy to tuck into the diaper bag and also give him a chance to try new flavours.  In some cases, I have used the store-bought foods to introduce him to a new taste before cooking up a bunch of it myself.  My favorite brands of baby food are Baby Gourmet and Ella’s Kitchen.  Both use organic ingredients.  I also like supporting local businesses and Baby Gourmet is one of those for me.

Making My Own Baby Food

Once I knew some of my son’s favorite foods, I started combining them into different purees.

One of the first combinations I made for him was a roasted vegetable soup.   I roasted some butternut squash, some onion, some garlic and some carrots.  I mixed the roasted veggies with water and some cooked quinoa.  Finally, I blended the whole thing to make a smooth puree.  My son loved the vegetables and I was happy to have snuck some quinoa into the mixture for some added goodness.

Another favorite of his is butternut squash with onions.  Not only is it his favorite, it’s actually one of mine!  I pan fry the onions in a little bit of coconut oil until they are browned.  Then, I add the cubed butternut squash and some water.  I let that cook on low until the squash is soft.  I season it with cinnamon and salt.  It’s a really simple dish that is both healthy and tasty.  In the beginning, I would puree it for him to make it easy for him to eat.  Now that he’s older, I just mash it up with a spoon and he can handle the rest.  Here’s a photo of a fresh batch (unmashed) I just made this morning.

Butternut Squash and Onions

Make Ahead Baby Food

The trick to making baby food in advance is to freeze it in little cubes.  Each cube is approximately one tablespoon.  My son starting by eating just one tablespoon at a time.  Now, he eats closer to 8 or 9 tablespoons of food in a meal.  Here’s some cubes that I made a little while ago.  I left them in the tray a bit too long and it looks like they’re getting a case of freezer burn.  Whoops!

Baby Food Cube Tray

Baby Food Cube Tray

Other favorites for my little guy include any kind of fruit, apple sauce, pear sauce, apple/pear sauce…, Well, you get the picture, right?

Pear Apple Sauce

Pear Apple Sauce

Action Shot

Finally, I couldn’t resist posting a photo of my little guy in action.  He really loves his blueberries and raspberries too, no matter how messy it gets! (Thank goodness for bibs!)

Blueberries!

Blueberries!


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Lentil Loaf

I’ve been trying to expand my cooking repertoire recently.  Specifically, I’ve been trying to make things that require less gluten, less sugar and in general, more unprocessed ingredients.  I want our family to eat a bit cleaner.

A recent recipe that I tried was a Lentil Loaf.  Though I’ve never actually made a meatloaf, my guess is that Lentil Loaf is the Vegetarian’s answer to  meat loaf.

I found the recipe on Pinterest.  You can find on my Main Meals board by clicking here.  If you want to go directly to the website, click here.  You’ll find the recipe on The Vegan Stoner.

I love the way this recipe is laid out on the page.  It uses approximate measurements and clearly communicates that this is a forgiving recipe.  I don’t know about you, but that works for me!

Lentil Loaf by The Vegan Stoner

Lentil Loaf by The Vegan Stoner

I’ve tried this twice now…

The first time, I followed the recipe pretty closely.  I used frozen mixed veggies and garlic powder.  It was pretty good.  It held its shape when I sliced it and it was the satiating, healthy meal I had hoped it would be.  This was the final product.

Lentil Loaf

Lentil Loaf

 

The second time I decided to get more creative.  ( I was also much more diligent about taking photos!) Instead of frozen veggies, I sauteed the onions with red pepper and mushroom and garlic.

Most of the Ingredients for the Lentil Loaf

Most of the Ingredients for the Lentil Loaf

I used gluten-free crackers and chips, which I crushed using a mortar and pestle.

Crushed gluten-free crackers and chips

Crushed gluten-free crackers and chips

I also used an organic vegetable spread instead of some of the ketchup.

Sadly, the second time I made this, the loaf didn’t hold together as well as the first time.  It tasted great and was very filling, but I think it needed some more oven time and a bit more time to rest before we dug into it.

Lentil Loaf  with a side of Quinoa Salad

Lentil Loaf with a side of Quinoa Salad

 

I’m definitely going to make this again.  Though we probably cut it before it had a chance to settle into a solid loaf shape, it tasted great.  The best part was when my husband told me he liked it and even better, asked me when I would make more!

Do you have suggestions for the veggies I should include in it next time, or other variations for that matter?


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Skinny Chunky Monkey Cookies

I’ve recently started to explore the idea of cutting refined sugar out of my family’s diet.  We don’t eat a lot of sugar, but it’s still there.  Frankly, my husband has already gone down this road and simply avoids sweet treats now, including the ones that I bake!  Hmph!

Cleaner Eating

My first foray into this world was with a recipe that I found on Pinterest.  Check out my Cleaner Eating Board here.

I chose to start this journey with Skinny Chunky Monkey Cookies.  This a simple recipe that uses oats instead of flour and fruit instead of refined sugar.  There are actually quite a few variations of this recipe to be found.  I liked this one because it used apple sauce and I have a ton of that on hand!  You can see the original recipe here.

Skinny Chunky Monkey Cookies

Here’s a reprint of the recipe.  I followed it to the letter with no modifications.

Skinny Chunky Monkey Cookies Recipe:
(Makes 30 cookies) 
Ingredients:

3 ripe bananas
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Mash bananas in a large bowl, then stir in remaining ingredients. Let batter stand for approximately 20 minutes, then drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes.

Freezing Directions:
Cool completely, then place cookies in a freezer bag. Seal, label, and freeze.

 

These were so simple to make. I actually made them while holding my 9 month-old son on my hip.  (He refused to be put down that particular afternoon!)

The raw batter looked like this.

Skinny Chunky Monkey Cookies - The Batter

Skinny Chunky Monkey Cookies – The Batter

The baked cookies looked pretty similar!  They taste like chocolate covered bananas.  Frozen, they remind me of an ice cream treat.  My hubby loves them.  This recipe is a keeper!

Skinny Chunky Monkey Cookies

Skinny Chunky Monkey Cookies


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Save Your Peaches!

The peaches have been wonderful this year.  They’re sweet, succulent and overall, plain delicious!  They’re like candy.

Even better, my nine month old son is in love with them.  He loves peaches.  And I love ANY food that he loves.  I’ve learned that skill over the past few months!

With this in mind, I decided it was time to freeze some peaches.  We don’t have a ton of room in our freezer, so I couldn’t freeze a flat of them or anything like that.  But, there is certainly enough room for a few.

Ripe Peaches

Ripe Peaches

Freezing Peaches

Freezing peaches is not quite as simple as slicing them and sticking them into a bag.  I’ve tried that and I found out that they just stick together in a clump or hard-to-use peach mass.

Fortunately, freezing peaches is not difficult.  It takes one or two steps and you’ll have delicious fresh frozen peaches for the long peach-less months ahead.

Blanch Your Peaches

First, you need to blanch your peaches.  Boil a pot of water and put your washed peaches into the boiling pot of water. I left mine in for about 90 seconds.

Blanching the Peaches

Blanching the Peaches

Cool Your Peaches

To cool them quickly, put them into an ice bath.  Use tongs to transfer the peaches from boiling water to the ice bath.

Peaches in the Ice Bath

Peaches in the Ice Bath

Peel the Peaches

At this point, your peaches should be cool enough to handle and you can slip the skins off of them.  It’s really that simple.

Blanched and Skinned Peaches

Blanched and Skinned Peaches

Slice and Tray-Freeze

Slice up your peaches and lay them on a tray.  I lined my tray with parchment paper, but this is not necessary.  You can put your peach slices directly on a pan if that works for you.  Freeze the peaches.  This should take about 3 hours.  I left mine in overnight.

Sliced Peaches, Ready for the Freezer

Sliced Peaches, Ready for the Freezer

Bag Your Peaches

Pack your frozen peach slices into plastic bags.  Make sure you label them bags!  Hide them in your freezer in a place where you’ll find them with glee in the middle of winter!

Fresh Frozen Peach Slices

Fresh Frozen Peach Slices


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Lemon Crinkle Cookies With a Twist

My latest baking adventure actually went as planned.  I was quite relieved that things worked out well, after the scramble brought on by the Banana Cotta Crumble!

I have made these Lemon Crinkle Cookies a couple of times and each time, they have hit the spot.  They look like a shortbread cookie.  However, they are moist and chewy on the inside.  The lemon zest and juice make them into a fresh-tasting sweet treat.

I’ve pinned the recipe on Pinterest.  See it and some other recipes for sweet treats that I’ve pinned by clicking here.

I made these for a party last week.  To dress each cookie up just a bit more, I broke out some homemade lemon curd that I had in my freezer.  Honestly, I could have served up the lemon curd all on its own.  It was just full of creamy, lemony goodness.

To see the actual original recipe, click here.  I reduced the sugar a little bit along the way, but that’s really the only change that I made.  Here’s a reprint of the recipe with my two changes of sugar reductions:

Lemon Crinkle Cookies
Makes 2-3 dozen

Ingredients:
½ cups butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar (The original recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar)
½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 whole egg
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoons baking powder
⅛ teaspoons baking soda
1-½ cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cups powdered sugar (The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of powdered sugar)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease light colored baking sheets with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Whip in vanilla, egg, lemon zest, and juice. Scrape sides and mix again. Stir in all dry ingredients slowly until just combined, excluding the powdered sugar. Scrape sides of bowl and mix again briefly.

Lemon Crinkle Cookies Batter

Lemon Crinkle Cookies Batter

Pour powdered sugar onto a large plate. Roll a heaping teaspoon of dough into a ball and roll in powdered sugar. Place on baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.

Lemon Crinkle Cookies Rolled in Icing Sugar

Lemon Crinkle Cookies Rolled in Icing Sugar

Lemon Crinkle Cookies - Almost Ready for the Oven

Lemon Crinkle Cookies – Almost Ready for the Oven

Since I wanted to dress these cookies with some lemon curd, I pressed each ball of dough down in the center to create a small well.

Lemon Crinkle Cookies with a Small Well

Lemon Crinkle Cookies with a Small Well

Bake for 9-11 minutes or until bottoms begin to barely brown and cookies look matte {not melty or shiny}. Remove from oven and cool cookies about 3 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

Once the cookies were baked and cooled, I dropped a small dollop of lemon curd on top of each one.

Lemon Crinkle Cookies with Lemon Curd

Lemon Crinkle Cookies with Lemon Curd

I baked these early in the day so that I could refrigerate them for an hour or so before attempting to transport them to the party.  A little bit of extra cooling worked well to solidify the lemon curd enough so that it didn’t stick to everything that touched it.  I was able to layer the cookies in a container and bring them to the party intact!

I was pretty pleased that everyone tried one and even the kids at the party thought they were tasty!

Lemon Crinkle Cookies with Lemon Curd

Lemon Crinkle Cookies with Lemon Curd


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Banana Cotta Crumble

Do you ever decide on a recipe based on what you have hanging out in the cupboards or fridge?

I do this more and more these days.  It’s all part of my current focus on using up what I have on hand rather than buying a whole new set of ingredients for a recipe.

That’s exactly how I came up with this Banana Cotta Crumble.   Never heard of it before?  I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t.  In all truth, this was intended to be a Banana Cream Pie.  However, I got a little carried away at one point and strayed from the recipe(s) that I was following.  I ended up with a whole new dessert!

And yes, if I do say so myself, it was delicious.

The Occasion

We were invited out to dinner at a friend’s house.  I offered to bring dessert.  That was over a month ago.  A few days before, I thought I’d start thinking about the perfect dessert to bring.

The Cupboards

In my cupboard, I had a lonely tin of Dulce de Leche Condensed Milk and some vanilla pudding.  To be honest, I try to make everything from scratch, so having both of these prepared ingredients was kind of bothering me.  I also found some graham cracker crumbs.

I searched for a recipe that would use the condensed milk and settled on a banana cream pie.  I thought the caramel was the perfect pair for the bananas.  Of course, I’d never made such a pie before. In fact, my pie making has been limited to lemon meringue pies only!  Oh well, what could go wrong?

Ingredients

The Recipes

I am a big fan of following recipes.  I’m just not that good at throwing things together without guidance.  In this case, I decided to take the best of two recipes and combine them.  For me, I was WAY out on a limb when I decided to take this course.

I found the first recipe on All Recipes.com.  You can find the recipe here. It looked pretty straightforward.  The filling was straight condensed milk and bananas.

I found the second one on Our Best Bites here.  In this recipe, the filling was a combination of condensed milk and vanilla pudding mix.  Bingo!  Just what I was looking for in order to use up some of my extra baking supplies.

My Concoction

I started with the crust, using the directions from the All Recipes recipe.  I mixed the graham cracker crumbs with the butter and baked, as directed.  The only change I made to the crust was to add a dash of salt.  I’m a big fan of anything that is sweet and salty.

Salted Graham Cracker Crust

Salted Graham Cracker Crust

Filling

For the filling, I followed the recipe from Our Best Bites. It was a simple mix of the condensed milk, pudding mix and water.  Unfortunately, this is the point when I got kind of distracted and I ended up adding too much water.  Whoops!  The mix was yummy, but a tad runny.

After chilling it for a bit, I added some whipped cream, as per the recipe.  The chilling and the whipped cream both went a long way toward thickening up the filling.

Caramel Filling

Caramel Filling

Assembly

The final step was to assemble the pie.  I sliced up three bananas and layered them on the baked crust.

Banana Layer

Banana Layer

Next, I spooned the filling on top of the bananas.  Pretty, isn’t it?

Caramel Filling

Caramel Filling

Finally, I whipped up the rest of the whipped cream with some icing sugar and spread that on top of the caramel filling.

Topped with Whipped Cream

Topped with Whipped Cream

Keep Calm and Banana On

The dessert was made, but I was sure that it would not hold its shape once it was cut, no matter how long I chilled it.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  Should I take the dessert to the dinner party and risk embarrassment?  Should I try and whip up something else for dessert?  Should I run to the store and buy something?  I was almost out of time…

Not knowing what to do, I did what any self-respecting woman would do – I called my best friend.  She also loves to bake and cook and quickly understood the dilemma I was in.

Keep Calm and Banana On

(* Image courtesy of Google Images)

She wisely advised me to calm down.  She pointed out that there was nothing wrong with any part of the dessert.  The only issue was the presentation of the dessert.  Therefore, the logical conclusion was to simply rename the dessert and then serve it with confidence, in bowls.  Isn’t she smart?

We brainstormed a few names.  There was the Banana Cream Pudding, Banana Panna Cotta,  and Banana Crumble.  They all sounded great and we settled on Banana Cotta Crumble.  It sounded good, it was easy to say and if nothing else, it would get some attention. Though there was never any hint of a Panna Cotta recipe in this adventure, I thought we just should just run with it.  I tried out the new name on my husband as soon as he came home and he was sold.  I knew if I could convince him, I could certainly convince our hosts!

Banana Cotta Crumble

It was served that night at the dinner party and it was lovely.  The salted crust mixed well with the sweet caramel pudding.  The banana slices provided great texture and flavour.  And what dessert isn’t made better when it’s topped with sweetened whipped cream?

Banana Cotta Crumble

Banana Cotta Crumble

It’s always great when a plan comes together.  It’s even better when you’re saved from dessert disaster!