Sunday, January 14, 2018

The BEST Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies EVER!

Okay, I know what you all are thinking - vegan cookies....really Christina?! Yes, I am serious. Vegan cookies. And since we've already been a few weeks in to all those new years resolutions, I thought I would share a great AMAZING cookie recipe. We can eat those again, right? I have been testing this one out for awhile and think now is the time to give away my vegan cookie secret. Just stay with me here. I promise it's worth it.

Vegan cookies may not sound the least bit appetizing to you. I get it. What's the point of eating a cookie without eggs and butter, right? I am not going to lie. I thought the same thing. My husband and I recently went on a date night to a local wine bar and restaurant not too far from our house. After dinner, we wanted a sweet treat (duh) and came across a local bakery down the street from where we were. Of course we had to go. We walked in and there wasn't much left since it was close to closing time. Little did we know, it was a vegan bakery. We thought we would expand our baked good horizons and give it a go. Why not, right? So, we picked a double chocolate and walnut cookie. It looked really good and you usually can't go wrong with chocolate and nuts. At least that's what we thought. While that bakery was cute and everything smelled delicious, that cookie was not. It was dry, crumbly and left us wishing for a different cookie. Boo. #sadcookies

From that point on, I was determined to start trying some vegan baking. It did not have to be much or anything wild, but I figured it was time to add some of it to my baking back pocket. I must have spent hours upon hours researching vegan baking and what people loved, liked and hated. I think there was a lot more vegan hate than love, but I was determined to keep on pushing. Then, I came across the BEST vegan chocolate chip cookies. The best, really? We've all seen recipes that say the best, but then come to find out, they aren't. How many different ways can one make a chocolate chip cookie? Well, apparently, a lot. But we won't go there right now. That's for another time.

So, since these were the BEST and all the ingredients seemed normal (at least to me), I made my shopping list and headed to the store. And by normal, I  mean ingredients I would use more than once and not something I would have to spend $20 to never use it again. While these cookies have all the usual suspects - flour, brown sugar, vanilla, salt and baking soda - I also needed to stock up on coconut oil, unsweetened apple sauce, coconut milk and vegan chocolate chips. Here's a tip. If you use coconut oil in other recipes, Costco is the best place to buy it. Otherwise, I recommend Trader Joes, if you have one near you. If not, most grocery stores sell it these days and it's in the aisle with all the other oils. As for the coconut milk, use the kind in the can. Thai Kitchen is the best brand I've used (I've tried two others), but any of the canned kind will work. Just make sure to shake the can before opening and give it a good stir before measuring. There may be chunks, but that's okay! As for the chocolate chips, most stores now sell dairy free and other vegan friendly chips in the baking aisle. Use what looks good to you. I really, really love the Enjoy Life! brand. They are SO good and you'd never know they were vegan. Really! I've been able to find them at Whole Foods, my local grocery stores and Amazon! Just remember, if you get wild and use regular chocolate chips, these won't be 100% vegan. The choice is yours!

These cookies are really simple to throw together and the best part is, you don't have to soften any butter. I never thought I would say that, but it's a win in my book. If I forget to leave it out, I usually end up accidentally melting it in my microwave. That never fun to clean up. Nevertheless, you simply throw the coconut oil (not melted!), brown sugar and vanilla in to the mixer. Mix until well combined and then add in the applesauce and coconut milk. Give it a stir and then add in all the dry ingredients. At this point, the batter will be thick, but that's okay. If the batter looks a little dry, add a splash more coconut milk. If it looks a little too wet, add in a tablespoon or two of flour. Then, stir in the chocolate chips and use those muscles to mix them in! Now, it's time to bake up these cookies. I can smell them now! These cookies will bake for about 10 minutes until they look just about set and the edges are just starting to get brown. Do not over bake them. I repeat. Do not over bake them or you will have hard cookies. You want these to be nice and soft and ooey gooey. Just as a chocolate chip cookie should be! When the cookies are done, I like to give them a little sprinkle of flaky sea salt for something a little extra special. 

And I can now tell you that these vegan chocolate chip cookies really THE BEST. My husband loved them. My coworkers ate more than I can count. My hairdresser and friend loved them so much she asked for six dozen for the holidays and people have been requesting them left and right since I started making them. Another person tried them and had no idea they were even vegan. In fact, they thought I was joking! But nope. No joking here. These are simply the best and something I will be making for a long time to come. In fact, I think you should try them too. They are not just for vegans - they are for all cookie lovers! And I am willing to bet that you will love these as much as I do (and I am not even vegan!)!

That cookie though!

The BEST Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies EVER! (Slightly adapted from Baker by Nature)


1/2 cup coconut oil (solid, not melted!)
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup coconut milk (make sure it's in a can!)
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
2 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups vegan chocolate chips
Flaky sea salt (I like to use Maldon)


Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil. 

In a mixing bowl, add the coconut oil, brown sugar and vanilla. Beat until everything is combined well and nice and creamy. Then, add in the coconut milk and applesauce. Mix until combined and then add in all of the dry ingredients - flour, baking soda and salt. Mix well (batter will be thick!) and then fold in 1 3/4 cups of the chocolate chips. Set aside the other 1/4 cup of chocolate chips for later.

Using a large cookie scoop (or 2-3 tablespoons worth), scoop the dough and placed on the lined cookie sheet. Make sure to leave an inch or two between the cookies as they will spread out. Bake for about 10 minutes or until the cookies look just set in the middle and the edges are starting to brown. Do not over bake! When the cookies come out, add on a few extra chocolate chips to the tops for looks and sprinkle with sea salt. Let cookies cool on the sheet for about 15 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack. ENJOY!

I dare you to try to eat just one of these. They are THAT good. Especially warm and just out of the oven!

Friday, January 5, 2018

One-Pan Peas, Ham and Creamy Noodles

Looking for a quick way to use up all that leftover holiday ham that isn't soup? Don't get me wrong. I love me a good bowl of homemade ham and bean soup, but there is only so much soup one girl can eat. And I love soup. After the Christmas holiday, my husband and I were lucky enough to have been sent home lots of leftover ham. We had it in soup (duh), mixed some in to our eggs in the morning and even on sandwiches. As much as we loved ham in all those ways, we wondered what else we could do with it. Then came peas, ham and creamy noodles!

When my hubby was flying us home after Christmas (I've told you he's a pilot, right? If not, well, I'll tell you all about that another time), I was able to get a bit of reception over wonderful I-5, even at 7,000 feet in the air. I used it to my advantage and researched leftover ham recipes. There were all the usual suspects - ham and bean soup, ham and scalloped potatoes, etc. None of them sounded all that intriguing, until I found something about ham and noodles. I mentioned to my hubby and he said it sounded great (and like something he had before!). So, it was settled. That night, I was trying out a new recipe. All I needed to do when we landed was stop by the store and pick up the few things I didn't already have (i.e. egg noodles and peas). Little did I know I would forget a lemon. Don't you hate it when you double check your list at the store only to forget one little thing? Please tell me that I am not the only one that does that! But I digress. Enough about my lemon drama.

Okay, back to the ham and noodles. This recipe is so easy, it's one pan and it takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish. Now that's what I am talking about. It makes enough for a family or just two, with leftovers for an extra meal or two. Now who doesn't love leftovers? This recipe starts off with a little onion and garlic (okay, a lot of garlic) that are cooked down until they are tender and start to brown. Once your whole house smells like heaven, you add in the egg noodles, chicken broth, ham and bit of half and half. Give it all a good stir, bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for 10 minutes, give or take. Once the noodles are tender, add in a bit of cornstarch and water to thicken everything up, a big pinch of salt and pepper and then a bit of lemon juice and a good handful of peas. Give it one more good stir to combine and then here is where we get fancy. I also added in about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese. This is totally optional here, but I think it takes this dish up a notch.  Plus, who doesn't like cheese. Serve this with a little salad on the side and you have the perfect meal in less than 30 minutes.

This dish is creamy, super easy and so delicious. It's now on holiday ham rotation at our house and I think it should be on yours too!

Leftover ham isn't just for soup and potatoes!!

One-Pan Peas, Ham and Creamy Noodles (Slightly adapted from Kevin & Amanda)


2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
2 cups of diced onion
2-5 cloves chopped garlic
2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 cup half and half or any milk of your choice
1 pound diced, cooked ham
1 cup frozen peas
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 grated parmesan
Salt and pepper, to taste

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat and cook onions and garlic until nice and golden brown. Don't burn the garlic! Once the onions and garlic are nice and brown, add in the broth, half and half and noodles and bring to a boil. Then, add the diced ham, cover the pan with a lid and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook noodles until they are tender, about 10 minutes. 

While the noodles are cooking, combine one tablespoon of cornstarch and three tablespoons water together and add to pan once the noodles are cooked. This will thicken the sauce up nicely! Season with salt and pepper to taste and then add in the frozen peas and lemon juice. Stir to combine, add in the grated parmesan and then enjoy!

It doesn't have to be the holidays to enjoy this dish! You can make this anytime of the year - just look for ham steak in the lunch meat section of your grocery store. If you can't find it there, visit your local deli counter and ask them to slice your ham like a ham steak. Trust me, they'll know what you're talking about!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

No Churn Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream

It's been so dang hot here this summer that I find myself not really wanting to turn on the oven to bake. Shocking, I know. Don't get me wrong, I still bake, but I try not to do it as often when it's 105+ degrees for over a week. Ick. Is it Fall yet? I am so ready for cooler weather, sweaters, boots and scarves. Who's with me?

With this, I have turned to no-churn ice cream to cool down. Let me be the first to tell you that I have two ice cream makers and love a good homemade ice cream (and do does my hubby). But, there are two big problems with those things. One, you have to make the ice cream base ahead of time and let it cool. Two, you have to remember to freeze one of the ice cream inserts (and keep it frozen for 2-3 days). I don't always remember to do the latter since the darn thing takes up too much room in the freezer. Ice cream problems. Those are real problems, people!

In one of the many emails I get from fellow food bloggers, a no churn ice cream recipe caught my eye. How the heck did a no churn ice cream even work? Would it even be good? I totally thought you had to churn ice cream to make it light, airy and super creamy. Clearly I was way wrong. And even better, you can make this no churn peanut butter cup ice cream with only five (yes, I said five!) ingredients and in under 10 minutes. In under 10 minutes you will have some of the best ice cream you've EVER had. I kid you not. Let me tell you all about it and how to get this started in your kitchen right now!

To make any no churn ice cream, you'll first need sweetened condensed milk, whipping cream (ps. Costco has the best deal on heavy whipping cream!) and vanilla. But to make this peanut butter cup version, you will need the three ingredients I just mentioned, plus peanut butter and peanut butter cups. Once you've gathered all the ingredients (you may have most of them already!), you'll want to melt a portion of the peanut butter and keep aside. This will give you totally delicious peanut butter ribbons throughout your ice cream. Now who wouldn't want that?! This is the part that takes the ice cream over the top! While the peanut butter is cooling, you'll mix the rest of the peanut butter in to the sweetened condensed milk and then fold all of that into whipped cream. Make sure you are folding and not just stirring really fast or out of control. If you do that, the whipped cream will deflate and make the ice cream really sad. And you'll be sad too. We don't want that. Plus, the whipped cream is what makes this no churn ice cream possible! Who knew?! 

Once you've folded in the milk and peanut butter mixture in to the whipped cream, gently add in the peanut butter cups. If you are using mini peanut butter cups, just simply mix them in. If you are using regular sized peanut butter cups, make sure to chop them up a bit. Although, I wouldn't mind biting in to a huge peanut butter cup. I've also been known to pick them out of other ice creams instead of eating the actual ice cream. Oops. Don't worry - I don't do that anymore. That was an old, bad habit. Back to the ice cream. Then, you'll place half of the ice cream in a freezer safe container (I like to use a loaf pan lined with plastic wrap), drizzle on the melted peanut butter mixture, the rest of the ice cream and then a little more of the peanut butter drizzle. Swirl everything together and then place in the freezer for at least eight hours to harden up. I know the eight hours sounds like fooorrrreeevverrr, but trust me. It will be well worth the wait Promise!

After eight hours, you will have some of the best ice cream you've ever, ever had. I kid you not. Making no churn ice cream has found a permanent place in my home and I have tried several other versions since making this peanut butter one (oreo fudge swirl and nutella chocolate chip)! The hubby and I are addicted and we think you will be too! No more need for a fancy ice cream machine to make out of this world ice cream at home!

Hand me a spoon, please!!

No Churn Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream (slightly adapted from Handle the Heat)

1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter, divided 
2 cups heavy cream, nice and cold
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 cup mini peanut butter cups, (if using regular sized cups, remember to chop them!)

In a large bowl combine the condensed milk and 1 cup of the peanut butter until smooth. Place the remaining 1/2 cup peanut butter in a heatproof bowl and microwave in 30-second increments until melted and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream and vanilla on high speed until stiff peaks form. If you over beat, you will have butter and we won't want that for this recipe. Fold the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture until combined. You don't want to to see any white streaks from the whipped cream. Gently stir in the peanut butter cups. Layer the ice cream in a freezer-safe container with dollops and drizzles of the melted peanut butter. Once all of the ice cream and peanut butter is inside the container, use a knife to gently swirl the mixture. Top with more chopped peanut butter cups, if desired.

Cover the surface with plastic wrap before sealing the container. Freeze for at least 8 hours and then enjoy!

This ice cream will not last long in your freezer. You've been warned!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Okay, I've Been Hiding

Okay, I'll admit it, I've been hiding under a rock for over a year.  Has it really been that long since I last blogged? Dear lord. I am sorry. But, the good news is that I am just fine. In case you were worried. Hopefully you weren't.

A lot has been going on and most importantly (and why I took a break from blogging for awhile) is because I graduated grad school. FINALLY. I will not lie - it was a long and tough road. Between working full time, planning my wedding (more on that in a minute) and more sleepless nights than I care to remember, I made it. I can official say I now have my Masters in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance. Despite graduating over a year ago, some days it does not feel real. I still feel as if I should be going to campus on the weekends to meet a group or getting up to my alarm at 4:30 am to study before going to work. During those two and a half years, I met some of the most amazing and inspiring classmates and faculty who pushed me to be a better person both inside and out. I could not have done it without my fellow classmates nor my husband. He saw the best of me and the worst of me during that time. While I was cranky from little to no sleep, he would make sure that I would take breaks (even though I didn't think I needed them) and make sure I remembered to eat. You do not want to see my hangry. That is not a good sight. I am not sure I would have made it through without him. Seriously. He deserves at least half of my diploma, if not more.

I would not have survived grad school without this group of amazing people!

Before I finished grad school, you may have noticed that the blog posts slowed down quite a bit. Well, not only was I working full time and going to school at night, but I was also planning a wedding. Crazy, right? Not sure what I was thinking at the time, but I did it. Wait no, we did it (my husband and I, that is)! While we had less than a year to plan our wedding, we were able to get it done relatively seamlessly and plan ahead as much as we could. We really took my summer break to heart and got done as much as we possibly could - favors, decoration shopping and more. My hubby was such a trooper. And through all of the planning and school work, I kept the crazy bride moments to a minimum. Really! There was only one true crying moment when I realized we had to remove a table at the last minute. Now that I look back on it, I have no idea why I was so upset and no one even knew that table had been removed. Oops. But hey, that's pretty good, right? You hear all those horror stories of bridezillas, so I was glad to not have had any of those moments! After all the planning, the day was here and we were married. It was a beautiful ceremony in our family friend's backyard - we couldn't have asked for anything more perfect! We danced the night away with our family and friends and in just a few short months, we'll be celebrating our second wedding anniversary. Time files when you're having fun!

Photo Credit: Beck Diefenbach

Oh and you're probably wondering where the 411 is on our honeymoon. Well, we did not go on one.....yet. I had a midterm exam two days after our wedding (that teacher was NOT nice when I asked him to take it early - ugh!), so we really couldn't go anywhere. There's nothing more romantic than spending the day after your wedding in the library studying. Party pooper over here. I even joked around with some of my classmates that I would wear my dress to that midterm. If you are wondering, I did not. I was thiiiiiiis close to wearing it, but I don't think I would have fit in the desk with all that dress. But, good things come to those who wait, right? Right! So, the hubby and I have decided it's finally time to take that well awaited honeymoon. More on that later, but it's coming and we can't wait to have some time to celebrate us and relax. We've been waiting a long time for this!

Let's see, what else has been going on? The hubby and I continue to plug away at updating our home and are currently working on our living room. Correction, Ryan is working on the living room. At least for now. He's re-texturing the ceiling and once he's done, we'll have the living room carpeted (the carpet before we moved in was so gross) and then we'll put a fresh coat of paint on the walls. We had to go back to the drawing board with the paint a couple of times, but I think we finally have a whole house paint that will look good on both the walls and the ceiling. We made the mistake of using another color of paint in one of the bedrooms and then doing a white ceiling. That was a fun task. We learned that wasn't the best way to go if we were going to be repainting the entire inside of the house ourselves. Nevertheless, things are moving along and we should be done sooner than later. But don't hold me to that. Doing a remodel yourself is hard work, but we've learned a lot about the house and ourselves through the process. Blood, sweat and tears will live on in this house, even after we are gone!

Who needs a contractor when you have a very handy hubby!

And one last item of mention - a new hobby. Not that I have a lot of time for anything else these days, but I decided to take on the task of refinishing old furniture. I never really thought much about it before, but admired those who did just that. Their work was just beautiful and I never thought I would ever even think of trying to do it. Let me just say, I am no expert and nor will I ever be, but, I was willing to give it a shot. Especially after my husband asked if I would like to try to refinish a couple of nightstands that were his grandparents. I was a little hesitant at first, seeing as they were part of the family, but he was certain his grandparents would be proud that we were freshening them up and using them in our home. So, it was time to set out on the task of figuring out how the heck I was even going to get started on such a project. After endless weeks of sanding, painting, priming and then painting again, I was done with the nightstand. It had gone from a funky avocado stained color to a clean and crisp white. Then, I felt I could do more and it was time for a dresser. I decided to do the body of the dresser a grey color and the drawers white (thank you Pinterest for the color inspiration). Despite the dresser being much larger than the nightstand, I was able to get the dresser done a lot faster. Not sure why that was, but I just went with it. After several coats of paint and new hardware, the dresser was finished. Since then, I've been working on the final nightstand and even took an Annie Sloan chalk paint class. Their paint and brushes are THE BEST, but I won't get started down that path. But I will just say that I did not use her paint or brushes on the first two pieces and it was a challenge. Brush hairs everywhere and bubbles in the other brand of chalk paint (to which the name will not be revealed). Don't get me wrong, the two pieces turned out great, but now that I've been introduced to Annie Sloan, there's no going back - and I have my eye on two other pieces and have been keeping my eyes out for others at garage sales or on the side of the road!

This was ELECTRIC blue before I got my hands on it

So, that's where I've been. Not to worry though. I've still been trying new recipes and cooking up a storm, as usual. I have a ton of recipes to share with you and will be back to blogging at least once a week. No more of this over a year away business. Here's to more recipes and more fun in the kitchen (and hopefully not driving my husband crazy with all my experiments!)!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal

Not sure what to do with all those leftover carrots from Easter? Well, I have just the answer for you. Make this homemade carrot cake baked oatmeal! But not just any baked oatmeal - vegan, oil and white sugar free oatmeal. Have I scared you now? Please don't run away just because I said vegan. I promise this oatmeal is good. Otherwise, why would I share it with you and pretty much tell you that you need to make this ASAP. Okay, maybe the latter part scared you. Nevertheless, this baked oatmeal is a must make. Whether it's because you want something simple and delicious for quick breakfast, a mid-afternoon snack or for desert (yes, you could eat this for dessert!), this baked oatmeal is for you. Plus, it's full of carrots and any extra veggies I can get in is a plus in my book.

I am going to be the first to tell you that I don't make a lot of vegan dishes. Not because they don't sound good, but because I just never really think about it all that much. Maybe I should think about it more. Especially after how good this oatmeal was! This oatmeal is super simple to whip up. All you need is oats, carrots (of course), honey or maple syrup as your sweetener, vanilla, cinnamon, a few other ingredients, nuts, raisins and almond milk. Of course I used my homemade almond milk here, but you can use whatever milk you like here. Do note that if you use good 'ol regular milk, this will no longer be vegan. But that's okay too. As long as you are not serving this to vegans. You literally mix everything together, pour it in to a baking dish and bake away. In about 30 minutes your home will be filled with the best carrot cake smell. In oatmeal form, of course.

The best part about this oatmeal is that you can prep everything the night before and just mix it up the morning of and bake. You can also bake the oatmeal the day before and just reheat the next morning. That's what the hubby and I like to do. It makes a super quick, healthy and delicious morning breakfast treat for us. We like to serve it with a dollop of vanilla Greek yogurt or a splash of our favorite milk. Yes, I know neither of those are vegan, but I am okay with it, so I hope you are too. The best part about this oatmeal is that I feel really good about eating it - it's loaded with carrots, oats and no white sugar. It's super delicious and to be honest, you'd never know there weren't eggs or milk in this dish. It's a winner and I think I may even try to add some crushed pineapple the next time I make it. And by next time, I mean next week. Because this was so good and I have been eating it almost everyday this week....for lunch! It doesn't matter what time of the day you eat this oatmeal, you are sure to love it. 

beautiful ingredients

Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal (slightly modified from Oh She Glows)

2 1/4 cup oats (not quick cooking)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 salt
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
2 1/2 cups almond milk (or any other non-dairy (for vegan) or regular milk (for non-vegan)
1/3 cup honey (or pure maple syrup)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (or 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger)
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 roughly chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 8x11 (9x13 will work just fine here too) pan and set aside. In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, add the milk, honey and vanilla extra. Mix well and then pour over the dry ingredients. Give everything a big stir to combine and pour in to the prepared pan. Bake for about 30-35 minutes until golden brown around the edges. Enjoy!

This baked oatmeal will also freeze really well once baked. Just remove from the freezer the night before to defrost and enjoy the next morning!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Homemade Almond Milk

Homemade almond milk is something I've been wanting to try for a very long time. I've heard how easy it was to make and since I was buying a carton from the store almost every week, I thought, why not try to make it at home. Seemed logical enough to me. Right? So, I started doing a search for what I would need to make almond milk at home and here's what I found - almonds (duh), dates or other natural sweetener, vanilla beans (or extract) and a nut bag. Yes, I said a nut bag. Don't laugh. It's a real thing. I promise! You can use cheese cloth in place of the nut bag, but I recommend a true nut bag. You can find a variety of them on Amazon and any one of them will work. They are around $10 each and are reusable! This is the one I bought. It worked great and was easy to clean. That's a win in my book.

Okay, back to making the milk. It's super easy. First, you take one cup of almonds and soak them for 8-10 hours with enough water to cover them. Make sure you use a big enough bowl as the almonds will expand a bit. Once 8-10 hours have passed, drain and rinse the almonds. You don't want to use that soaking water. Then, place the almonds and fresh water in the blender. At this point, you can blend away or if you want to add a bit of sweetness and flavor, you can add in a few pitted dates and some vanilla. I threw in a whole vanilla bean pod, but if you don't have those handy, vanilla extract will work just fine. You can also use honey or pure maple syrup instead of dates, if you wish. Or leave out the natural sweetener altogether. It's up to you. Once everything is in the blender, whip it up for a minute or so. Make sure everything is really well blended. Give it few extra seconds if you think it needs it. It won't hurt it.

Then comes the fun part and where the nut bag comes in to play. Take a big bowl (enough to hold the liquid from the blender) and place the nut bag in the bowl. Pour the contents of the blender in to the bag and squeeze it for as long as you can to get milk out of it. Warning - if you squeeze too hard, it will squirt all over. Ya, that happened to me. Apparently I don't know my own strength. Once all of the milk is out, you can keep the ground up mixture for granola, muffins or to use as a flour replacement in your baking. More on that later. I threw mine away before I knew you could use it. Darn it!

Give the blender a quick rinse and then pour the milk back in. Now, add a pinch of salt and a dash of cinnamon. You can leave the  cinnamon and salt out, but I think it gives it a little something something and definitely takes it over the top from store bought almond milk. But if you are purest, then you can leave it out. Give the mixture one more whirl and you are good to go. You can pour it in any container you like (I bought this cute reusable milk jar!) and enjoy for up to a week. If it lasts that long. When all is said and done, this recipe makes about three and a half cups of fresh almond milk. Enjoy it with cereal, in your baking, or just in a big cold glass! 

how good does that look!?

Homemade Almond Milk (Oh She Glows)

1 cup raw almonds
3 1/2 cups fresh water
3-4 pitted dates
1 vanilla bean (whole) or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Soak the one cup of raw almonds in enough water to cover them for 8-10 hours. Once the soaking time has passed, drain and rinse the almonds. Add the almonds to a blender with the 3.5 cups fresh water, dates and vanilla. Blend for one minute on high until everything is well blended. If you feel it needs a bit more, blend for another 15 seconds. 

Then place the nut bag in a bowl big enough to hold the contents of the blender. Then, pour the mixture in to the bag and squeeze to get all the milk into the bowl. Once you've removed all the milk, you can dump the contents of the bag or save them for another use (more on that to come, but you can also Google it too!). Rinse out the blender and then pour the milk back in. Add in the salt and cinnamon and give it one more quick whirl - 10 seconds or so. Then, pour in to whatever container you have and enjoy!

Who knew making homemade almond milk would be so fun and delicious!.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Best Black Bean Brownies EVER

Black bean brownies get a bad rap. Probably because they contain black beans and typically taste nothing like a brownie. But, I am about to change your mind about black bean brownies. Like, I am going to make you want to make these black bean brownies all the time and eat one almost everyday. Don't be scared, okay? Just hear me out. Now, I've tried several black bean brownie recipes out there. The first one I tried had flecks of bean skin (so gross!) throughout the brownie and it gave it such a strange texture. And, it really tasted like beans. Of course, I knew it would, but it was more bean-y than I thought it would be. Not very good in my books. The second version I tried was a bit more chocolaty, but the beans were definitely still there. I made several batches for others, and they loved them, but they still weren't "the one". And definitely not the brownie I would eat in place of an every day ooey gooey chocolate brownie.  Now I want a brownie. With ice cream. And berries. And hot fudge. Oh my!

Okay, back to black bean brownies. One weekend afternoon when I needed a study break (as you all know, I stress bake), I decided to do some more research on black bean brownies. That's when I came across a new and different way of making black bean brownies from Gina, the wonderful food blogger of Skinnytaste. If you have not checked out her blog, you must! It's AMAZING. Just like these brownies. I am not going to lie. I was a bit skeptical trying out yet another black bean brownie recipe, but these have changed my life. I kid you not. 

These brownies start with one can of black beans and a food processor. A blender would work well here too. You add the beans, a couple of eggs, some sugar (not too much), a splash of oil, milk, baking powder and soda, cocoa powder and then the two ingredients that take these brownies over the top - balsamic vinegar and espresso powder. I first thought, "vinegar in brownies?", but let me tell you, there is something about the combination of the balsamic and espresso powder that just works. If you ask me, it really amps up the chocolate flavor! And the best part of these brownies, there is not one sprinkle of flour! You just whirl up everything in the food processor until it's nice and smooth (no bean skins here!).  Then pour the mixture in to a bowl, add some chocolate chips, mix them in and pour everything in a baking pan. Top the mixture with the rest of the chocolate chips and bake away. In just about 30 minutes, you'll have some of the best brownies you have ever had. Ever! They are so rich and chocolaty, you'd never know they were made with beans. I've fooled quite a few people with these! Now that's saying something.

These black bean brownies have become part of my weekly baking rotation and something the hubby and I always have on hand. I keep these bad boys individually wrapped up so they are easy to grab and go. Especially when I need a sweet treat I can feel good about. And so I don't eat half the pan in one sitting. Not that I would, but you never know. Each brownie is about 140 calories and will curb that afternoon sweet craving in no time. Trust me, you'll never think about black bean brownies the same way again. These are a game changer.

Yes, these are really made with black beans!

The Best Black Bean Brownies (slightly adapted from Skinnytaste)

Recipe makes 16 brownies - each at just about 140 calories!

1, 14 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon milk 
1 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee
Dash of salt
1 cup of chocolate chips, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 9x9 square pan with foil.

Drain and rinse the can of black beans and place in a food processor (or blender if you don't have a food processor). Add in all of the remaining ingredients, except for the chocolate chips. Blend everything together until the mixture is nice and smooth. About one minute. Once everything is well mixed, pour the mixture into a bowl and add half of the chocolate chips. Stir to combine and pour everything in to the prepared pan. Then, sprinkle the other half of the chocolate chips over the top, making sure they are evenly distributed.

Bake brownies for about 28-32 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs. Do not over bake! Allow them to cool slightly and then cut in to 16 even squares.I like to keep them in the fridge until they are nice and cold, but if you can't wait that long, let them cool for about an hour or so before cutting in to them. Enjoy!

These brownies will change your life. You'll never look at black beans the same again!