Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Double Chocolate Fudge Brownies

Please don't be alarmed by the first ingredient.  I know, I was a bit nervous too.  Forget the beans because you can't even taste them.  Let's concentrate on how these Double Chocolate Fudge Brownies are chocolaty and fudgey.  Without the eggs to make them rise high like a cake, they remain dense and... well... fudge-like. There's not a lot of flour to mute the chocolate taste.  And even with minimal sugar, the ripe banana contributes some natural sweetness along with the chocolate.  The molasses or coffee really adds depth to these rich, gooey, bites.

This recipe requires no mixer, no special equipment (other than a food processor or blender), and it doesn't create a million dirty dishes.  It actually comes together quite quickly so it's an easy dessert to throw together in the morning or after lunch for an after-dinner treat.

So what is the difference between vegan and vegetarian, anyway?  In it's most basic definition, vegetarians do not eat animal flesh at all and vegans don't eat anything that at one point came from an animal. A vegetarian would eat a black bean burger with cheese and a side of mac 'n cheese with vanilla pudding for dessert.  Wow, that actually sounds pretty good...  Ok, so a vegan would not eat any of that since the pudding, and the cheese on the burger and in the pasta contains dairy.

There are varying degrees of strictness to the food choices one makes too.  Some vegetarians and vegans eat fish.  Some vegans will not eat honey, drink certain wines and beers (made using isinglass from the swim bladders of fish), eat crackers or bread made with milk ingredients, or even Worcestershire sauce (made from anchovies).

Whether or not you eat flesh with a face, these brownies are truly amazing.  You'll love them.  Really.

Double Chocolate Fudge Brownies (vegan or not)
Makes 16 small brownies

1 c. canned black beans (about 2/3 of a can), rinsed and drained
1/2 c. sugar
3 T. canola oil
4 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ripe banana
2 T. molasses or instant coffee (depending on your tastes)
2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
pinch salt
1 c. milk chocolate or vegan chocolate chips, divided
1/2 c. chopped nuts (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 350°.  Grease 8-inch square pan.

In a food processor, puree the beans, sugar, and oil.  Add the cocoa powder, banana, molasses or coffee, and vanilla and puree until smooth, about 1 minute.  Pour into large bowl.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.  Add to the bean mixture and gently stir until just combined without over-mixing.  Fold in 3/4 c. chocolate chips.  Pour batter into the prepared pan.  Sprinkle remaining 1/4 c. chocolate chips over the top.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in pan on wire rack then refrigerate.

Adapted from Vegan on the Cheap Chocolate Surprise Brownies

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

If you were a classy lady living in the 1950's, chances are you were well acquainted with the Jell-o salad. This was a very popular way to get one's vegetables.  Yes, vegetables were thrown into a Jell-o mold, turned out onto a platter and served as a salad.  Nowadays, we are much more sophisticated with our Jell-o. We add fruit and salty snacks to make Strawberry Pretzel Salad.

My grandma was born in 1924, and was a stay-at-home mom during the 50's.  And right up until her death several years ago, she would make a Jell-o salad to go with dinner.  It was usually lime Jell-o with carrots shavings and raisins, and (I'm so sorry, Grandma, if you can hear me from the Other Side!) it was awful.  We would all secretly cringe and cower when the jiggling mass of green was presented.  Anyone remember Aunt Bethany's Jell-o mold with the cat food in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation??

In case you're scared right now, let me assure you that this Jell-o "salad" is amazing.  (Although I have no idea why it's called a salad; it's a dessert!)  It's actually pretty popular Mid-Western picnic fare. But most people make it with strawberry Jell-o (dyes and chemicals and artificial flavoring) and Cool-Whip (oils). Again we go back to the nasty Jell-o salad days.  Let's make this real, people. Strawberries (real), whipped cream cheese (real), and a pretzel crust (real) combine together to make a sweet, creamy, salty, crunchy dessert that is out-of-this-world summertime good.

And a word of warning ~ gelatin is not vegetarian.  If you don't know what it is, I won't disgust you with the details (which are definitely vomit-inducing), but suffice it to say that if you're vegan, you won't be eating traditional Jell-o.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

6-1/2 oz. pretzel sticks (not rods)
2-1/4 c. sugar
12 T. butter, melted
8 oz. cream cheese
1 c. heavy cream
3 lbs. frozen strawberries, thawed
1/4 t. salt
4-1/4 t. unflavored gelatin (2 packets, I think)
1/2 c. cold water

Pre-heat oven to 400°.  Spray 9x13 pan with cooking spray.

Pulse pretzels and sugar in food processor until coarsely ground.  Add butter and pulse until combined.  Pour into pan and pat down well.  Bake 10 minutes, rotating half-way thru.  Let cool 20 minutes.

In bowl of electric mixer and using whisk attachment, beat cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar until fluffy. While running on med-high, add cream in steady stream.  Beat until soft peaks form.  Spread over pretzels and refrigerate 30 minutes.

In food processor (no need to clean), puree 2 lbs. of strawberries 30 seconds.  Strain thru fine mesh strainer, pressing on solids, over medium saucepan.  Add 1-1/2 cups sugar and salt to saucepan and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, until sugar is dissolved.  Set aside.

Pour cold water into large bowl.  Sprinkle gelatin over and let sit 5 minutes.  Whisk strawberry puree into gelatin.  Slice remaining strawberries and stir into mixture. Refrigerate until mixture starts to cling to sides of bowl.  Pour over whipped cream cheese and refrigerate 4 or more hours until set up.

Adapted from Cooks Country Aug/Sept 2013