Thursday, February 7, 2013

Craving a Really Good Salad

Fruits and vegetables.  Even with the new "food plate", our diet is to consist primarily of these foods.  During my recent visit to California, I did something I do not do too often here in Virginia - I ordered a salad.  It had crisp romaine lettuce, the sweetest yellow peppers I have ever had, delectable grape tomatoes, shredded carrots, sweet red onion, cucumbers, and edemame.  The dressing, which I used very little of, was a simple balsamic vinaigrette.  I ate every bite and felt absolutely fabulous the rest of the day.  And I realized that a great salad begins with great ingredients.  The problem is that they are hard to find here in Virginia unless they are from a CSA or a Farmer's Market, which is a problem in late fall, winter, and early spring.  Even the organic produce at high-end supermarkets leave something to be desired - specifically taste.  Non organic produce is all too often imported from places with different standards than ours in terms of pesticide and fungicide use and leave me feeling queasy.  In addition, they are picked way before their prime so that they can be "pretty" when they come state-side. In California, much of the produce is "from California" so it is picked fresh and ripe, and it tastes like it.  My question for you:  how (and where)can I get a really yummy and healthy salad outside of California now - in the heart of winter?

I hope to hear from you.  I am craving that California-style salad big-time!   I hope 2013 has been good to you so far.  Until next time, happy and healthy eating!  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Gluten-Free Black Bean Brownies

Gluten-free.  The word sends shivers down my bread-loving spine.  I can not imagine being on a diet that excludes wheat products.  I can do without steak, french fries, or even ice cream.  And I have done so for going on 11 years.   But wheat?  Bread is my comfort food.  Bread, and all other wheat-based goods, such as scones, cakes, and, on occasion, brownies.   Because I have many friends who are on gluten-free diets, I have been experimenting with gluten free baked goods and found a brownie recipe that I think is surprisingly good.  Especially since the mystery ingredient that takes the place of the wheat is Black Beans; an ingredient that is at once a protein, a "good" carbohydrate, and a great source of fiber - something most of us do not get nearly enough of.  I have made them for a few of my gluten-free friends and have to admit that I like them quite a bit.  The texture is somewhere between a brownie and fudge.  I make these brownies now and then for myself just because they are a healthier choice.   I have had some requests to post the recipe, so here it is as I make it.  Hope you'll give it a try:

Black Bean Brownies

1 can (15 oz.) black beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (you can get dairy free ones if need be)
3 T. canola oil
3 eggs (or egg replacer powder, which makes them a good Lenten choice)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (I use a full cup)
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. baking powder  
1/8 tsp. salt

Place the beans, 1/4 cup chocolate chips and oil in a food processor; cover and process until blended.  Add the eggs (or prepared egg replacer), brown sugar, cocoa, vanilla, baking powder, and salt.  Cover and process until smooth.  (Note:  If you do not have a large food processor, you can just add the processed beans and chips to the other ingredients in a bowl and beat them together.  That's what I had to do).
Transfer batter to a 9-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray.  Sprinkle evenly with remaining chocolate chips.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.  Cut into bars. 
(This is a revised version of the recipe that appeared in Healthy Cooking magazine, Dec'Jan 2013)  Note that it is also dairy-free and can be vegan if you use the egg replacer powder.

I hope 2013 has been good to you so far.  Until next time, happy and healthy eating!