Chocolate Banana Walnut Muffins and a Shameful Secret

IMG_0352

I had to cut out the back row of my muffin pan on this picture because I messily devoured one of these right as it came out of the oven.  Crumbs EVERYWHERE.

No, that’s not my shameful secret.  The secret is that the original recipe for these muffins comes from the newest batch of beachy treats from the Tone it Up girls.  “Who are they?” you might ask.  Meaning that you have never been a woman with a mission to look better naked and hours of internet time to spend searching for just the thing to get you motivated to FINALLY eat right and work out regularly.  Good for you.

I think I stumbled onto the Tone it Up website after a meal of grilled cheese sandwiches and ice cream.  I wasn’t feeling to good about myself and the website’s impossibly girly aesthetic drew me right in.  It was a nice change from all the paleo sites I usually frequent.  It’s run by Karena and Katrina, a pair of Southern California best friends and personal trainers whose mission is to help you become a “beach babe”.

Screen-Shot-2012-03-29-at-7-44-32-AM_001

Yeah, I kind of wanted to barf, too.  But I also kind of wanted to BE them. So I kept visiting the website, joined the online community, and coughed up a stupid amount of money for their nutrition plan.  Never mind the fact that I almost never go to the beach and when I do, it’s in Oregon so I’m dressed like this.

With my mom, in July.

With my mom, in July.

Oh well, everyone has to have their guilty pleasures and the muffins are pretty good.

Chocolate Banana Walnut Muffins
adapted from Tone it Up
makes 12

Ingredients
– 1 cup brown rice flour
– 1/4 cup xylitol
– 1/4 cup brown sugar
– 1 tsp salt
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
– 1/2 cup cocoa powder
– 2 bananas, mashed
– 3 Tbsp maple syrup
– 3 drops vanilla-flavored stevia
– 1 1/4 cups milk
– 5 Tbsp melted coconut oil
– 2 Tbsp ground flax seeds
– 2 tsp baking soda
– 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
– 1/2 cup toasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, xylitol, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, protein, and cocoa powder.  In a separate bowl, mix bananas, maple syrup, stevia, milk, coconut oil, and flax seeds.

Mix baking soda and apple cider vinegar together in a small bowl, let fizz and add to the wet ingredients.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until just blended.  Fold in walnuts.

Divide batter among 12 muffin cups and bake for 25 minutes.

Peanut Butter Oat Clusters (GF, Vegan)

It was the perfect day for a potluck picnic and I decided to bring something wholesome but with an edge of sweetness.  That’s how these chocolate-studded bite-sized peanut butter clusters came to be.  By the end of the picnic, they were all gone.

Oh, and just because the dough contains some healthy ingredients, try not to ruin your dinner by standing over the mixing bowl and eating it by the handful.  Do as I say, not as I do.  :)

Peanut Butter Oat Clusters
makes 40-50

Ingredients
– 3 1/4 cup oats
– 3/4 cups brown rice flour
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 2 Tbsp ground flax seeds
– 1/3 cup coconut oil
– 1 cup peanut butter
– 1/2 cup brown sugar
– 1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, mix oats, brown rice flour, baking powder, and flax seeds together.

Melt the coconut oil in a medium bowl in the microwave.  Add peanut butter and use a fork to mix until smooth.  Add brown sugar and vanilla and mix until well-combined.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix well.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Using a Tablespoon, drop dough onto a greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  They do not really spread out while baking and so you can put them quite close together.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until just starting to brown.  They will firm up as they cool.

* I added this post to this week’s Seasonal Celebration Sunday, Melt in Your Mouth Monday, Mix it Up Monday, Monday Mania, and My Meatless Mondays.

Almond Flour Brownies (Grain-Free)

I hesitated a little before starting this post.  I’ve noticed a chocolate theme emerging on this blog recently and I don’t want you to think I have a one-track mind.  Except that I do.

And these brownies are capable of satisfying even a die-hard chocoholic’s need.  They’re dense, moist, sweet without being cloying, and, yes, chocolate-y.  The espresso powder gives them a little extra bitter note, which I think contrasts well with the sweetness.  It’s optional, but I highly recommend adding it if you have some.  Eating these reminded me of the brownies of my youth.  Sometime during high school, I discovered Ghirardelli’s double chocolate brownie mix (complete with extra chocolate chips) and came to believe that the best brownies in the world came out of that box.  I’m sure I ate way too many of them, since that’s what high-schoolers do, and I certainly never thought of making my own from scratch.  How far I’ve come!

These are definitely my new go-to.  While they are definitely not healthy in the way that, say, a kale salad is healthy, there are a few things you can do to feel more virtuous about enjoying them:

1. Use grass-fed butter.  I use Kerrygold and, while it’s more expensive than your regular grocery store butter, I believe it’s worth every cent.  Grass-fed butter contains a better ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fats.  Americans tend to be overloaded with omega 6’s and this is a good way to help tip the balance in a healthier direction.  Grass-fed butter is also a good source of Vitamins A and K2.  Learn more about why you might want to consider buying grass-fed here.

2. Try palm sugar.  Made from the flowers on coconut trees, palm sugar is a low glycemic sweetener (meaning it won’t cause drastic spikes in your blood sugar) that can be used just like regular sugar.  It’s also rich in vitamins.

3. Make your own almond flour by pulverizing soaked and dehydrated nuts in a food processor.  I talked a little about why I do this here.

You don’t HAVE to do any of these things to make wonderful brownies.  I just figured that I spend so much time researching nerdy health topics that I should pass along some of what I’ve learned.  Either way, I hope you enjoy!

Almond Flour Brownies
makes an 8×8 pan
very slightly adapted from The Wannabe Chef

Ingredients
– 3/4 cup almond flour
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1/2 tsp baking powder
– 1 tsp espresso powder
– 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips, divided
– 1/2 cup butter
– 3/4 cup palm sugar
– 3 eggs
– 1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F.  In a large bowl, combine almond flour, salt, cocoa powder, baking powder, and espresso powder.

In the microwave or on the stove, melt together 1/2 cup of the chocolate chips and butter.  Set aside.  In a separate bowl, combine palm sugar, eggs and vanilla.

Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients.  If your chocolate mixture is very hot, you may want to wait to add it until the egg mixture has been somewhat incorporated into the flour to avoid cooking the eggs.  Fold in remaining chocolate chips.

Pour batter into an 8×8 pan and bake for about 30 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

* I added this post to this week’s Whole Food Wednesday, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Real Food Wednesday, Full Plate Thursday, and Gluten Free Wednesdays.

Chocolate Brownie Cake and a Birthday

Having visitors from out of town always reminds me of how much our culture revolves around food and beverages here in Portland.  My list of things to do with an out-of-towner is skewed heavily toward the restaurants, bars, and breweries with just a few other attractions (Powell’s books, neighborhood shopping) sprinkled in.  And so I’m still recovering from my sister’s recent visit.  It was an especially exciting visit for me because it landed just a day after her birthday and, since we live in different states, we rarely get to spend birthdays together.  It also gave me an excuse to bake a birthday cake.

This recipe is about as simple as you can get.  It was adapted by Jacqui at So Good and Tasty from a David Lebovitz recipe.  It doesn’t call for any frosting, but good-quality ice cream is a great way to add a little extra sweetness and creaminess.  I’ve been snacking on it for a few days now and I think it’s definitely best when served warm.  Real ingredients, not too sweet…this is cake all grown up.  Happy birthday, Maggie!

Simple Chocolate Cake
adapted from So Good and Tasty

Ingredients
– 8 oz semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
– 8 Tbsp unsalted butter
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 4 eggs at room temperature, yolks separated from whites
– 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
– pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter an 8-inch cake pan.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double broiler until smooth.  Remove from heat and add half of the sugar, the eggs yolks, and the flour.

Using a hand- or stand-mixer, whip the egg yolks with the salt for a few minutes, until they begin to appear a bit foamy.  Slowly add the remaining sugar in small amounts, whipping constantly until the mixture forms peaks that hold their shape.  (I bought an electric hand-mixer just for this and I really would recommend it…I’m not sure I would have had the speed or stamina to do it by hand!)

Using a rubber spatula, fold the egg whites in with the chocolate batter until the mixture is uniform.  This will take several minutes but you will get there.

Scrape the batter into the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the center feels firm.  Let cool and serve with good-quality vanilla ice cream.
* I added this post to this week’s Melt in Your Mouth Monday.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

These are not healthy.  When I was contemplating making cookies, I thought about how I should substitute applesauce for some of the butter.  Then I started baking and it completely slipped my mind.  So despite the inclusion of ingredients like whole wheat pastry flour and brown rice syrup, please do not think I’m trying to pass these off as a health food.   They are just delicious.

I used to use whole wheat flour for all my baking, including treats like these.  It’s hard for me to reconcile my desire to be healthy with using refined carbohydrates in any of my recipes.  The problem with this was that I could always taste the whole wheat even when I didn’t necessarily want to.  I’m not sure how this drama in my kitchen is going to end, but for now I’m going with the tactic of using about half whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour in this kind of recipe.  As a trade-off, I’m going to try to eat fewer of the cookies.  Wish me luck with that.


Chocolate Chunk Cookies

makes 2 dozen cookies

based on Angela’s recipe from Oh She Glows

Ingredients:
– 1 stick butter (8 Tbs), softened
– 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
– 1/4 cup brown rice syrup
– 1 egg
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 1/2 tsp baking soda
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
– 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/4 tsp cinnamon
– 1/2 cup rolled oats
– 1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts
– 1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks

1. Preheat the oven to 350F and lightly grease 2 cookie sheets.
2. Cream butter and brown sugar.  Mix in egg, brown rice syrup, and vanilla.
3. Mix together dry ingredients except walnuts and chocolate chunks.  Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients and mix until well-incorporated.  Fold in walnuts and chocolate chunks.
4. Drop by the spoonful onto the baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes.