Secret Ingredient Chocolate Pudding

IMG_5634Since I’ve been all about secret ingredients lately (chickpea muffins, anyone?), I figured I’d stick with the trend and post another delicious recipe containing an unlikely ingredient. After undergoing a gingival graft last week (in which a piece of soft tissue from the roof of my mouth was sliced off and sewn onto the gum line of my two front bottom teeth to counteract some recession most likely caused by my orthodontic work in middle school…for those of you who care to know), basically all I’ve been able to eat is yogurt, scrambled eggs, and smoothies. Well, and because I’m me, I’ve been eating blended-up overnight oats, mashed-up turkey meatloaf mixed with zucchini puree, and smashed-up avocado/shredded chicken salad. Hey, I’ve got to keep it interesting!

Anyway, lately my best friends have been soft, cold foods to ease my aching mouth. And what better best friend is there than chocolate pudding? I’ll tell you what: chocolate avocado pudding! It’s rich, smooth, chocolatey, full of heart-healthy fats, and doesn’t taste at all like avocados. At least, I don’t think it does–if you have sensitive taste buds, you might be able to detect a slight avocado-y taste, but the dominant flavor is definitely chocolate. Pure, smooth chocolate. Gahhh.IMG_5635

Not only is this pudding (fairly) healthy, easy, and delicious, but it only takes about 5 minutes to whip up! I highly recommend chilling it for 30 minutes or so, but if you’re feeling impatient you can eat it right then and there. I wouldn’t blame you.

Most of the measurements here are just ballpark figures–feel free to add more or less of the cocoa powder, milk, and sweetener until you reach your desired taste and texture. If you like your pudding a little more creamy and a little less intense, add a few extra tablespoons of milk. If you want a super-chocolatey flavor, add a bit more cocoa powder. If you’re trying to cut back on sugar, just use a tablespoon or two of agave or honey. Unlike delicate pastries or baked goods that require exact measurements, this recipe is highly adaptable and pretty darn hard to mess up. In the past I’ve thrown in a banana, left out the milk entirely, added peanut butter, and doubled (okay, tripled) the entire recipe. Each and every time, it was delicious.IMG_5639

Even if you’re not usually an avocado fan, I urge you to blend yourself up some Secret Ingredient Chocolate Pudding! It’s the ideal comfort food whether you’re recovering from a dental surgery like me, or just want to enjoy a no-bake dessert on a warm summer night. Have fun experimenting–and eating!IMG_5638

Secret Ingredient Chocolate Pudding

Makes 4 servings

2 small, ripe avocados

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/3 cup milk (coconut, almond, cow milk, etc.)

1/4 cup sweetener (brown sugar, honey, agave nectar, etc.)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate chips for topping (optional)

Directions:

Scoop out the avocado flesh into a food processor or blender. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend or process until very smooth. Spoon into bowls or small ramekins  and chill for 30-60 minutes before serving.

Note: this pudding should be served the day it is made for the best texture and flavor!IMG_5629

Recipe from Emma’s Baking Addiction

Crock Pot Chickpea, Lentil, and Butternut Squash Stew

Stew3It’s finally beginning to look like autumn in northwest Oregon. After a long, drawn-out summer of sunshine and temperatures in the 80s (not that I’m complaining), the mornings are getting chillier and the weather prediction for this week is rain, rain, rain. I have to admit that I love the crisp autumn weather, but after a day or two of rain I’m ready for sun again. I think I was spoiled with an unusually sunny summer at home in Washington, and I’m dreading all the the bleak, gray days to come.

The clear, cool days are my favorites. My college campus has a huge variety of trees, and this time of year is so beautiful. I love walking to class under a canopy of shocking red trees, or sitting on a bench and having a leaf fall onto my head. On my morning runs I like to look at all houses decked out in spooky Halloween decorations, and our little apartment is covered in pumpkin/ghost/witch/skeleton paraphernalia. Fall also signals the beginning of soup season, and I’ve been loving my little red Crock Pot more than ever!Stew2

This Chickpea, Lentil, and Butternut Squash Stew is the most perfect fall meal. Despite being vegetarian, it’s packed full of hearty protein and fabulous flavor. The recipe makes about 8 servings, and since I’m only one person I got to enjoy it for 8 meals. You’d think I’d get tired of eating the same lunch and dinner for 4 days in a row, but not with this stew! I actually looked forward to eating it again and again and was sad when it was all gone. The combination of chickpeas, lentils, sweet vegetables, spicy jalapeño and warm curry spices is wonderful, and the longer you cook the stew the thicker it gets. It’s comfort in a bowl, I tell you!

Last Thursday my car battery decided to die, and after a long day of racing back and forth between Les Schwab and classes it felt awesome to walk into the door to a fragrant slow-cooker full of hot stew. Sometimes a good meal is all it takes to brighten up a hard day. Add this fantastic crock-pot meal to your dinner repertoire! It’s great any time of the year!Stew

Crock Pot Chickpea, Lentil, and Butternut Squash Stew

Makes 6-8 servings

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 large carrot, diced

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon garam masala (or curry powder)

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes

1 cup brown lentils

1 28-oz can diced tomatoes

2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

32 ounces vegetable broth

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cilantro, for serving (optional)

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion, carrot, and jalapeño for 5-7 minutes or until tender. Add in the garlic and sauté for another minute or so. Stir in the garam masala (and cayenne pepper, if you like spice).

Transfer the mixture to a slow cooker. Add in the butternut squash, lentils, diced tomatoes, chickpeas, and broth. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on high for 4-6 hours or low for 8-10 hours. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and top with chopped cilantro if desired.

(Recipe adapted from Eat Live Run)

Banana Flaxseed Muffins

muffins1At the beginning of each October, my university has a so-called “fall break” which is actually nothing more than a 3-day weekend. I’m totally on board with the idea of this mini-vacation, but its actual application seems pretty half-hearted. If you’re going to call it a break, make it a break! Three days was just long enough for me to make the 7-hour journey home, collapse into relaxing familiarity for 40-some hours, and then tear myself away to drive all the way back to school. It felt more like a teaser than anything else, especially for a homebody like myself. Still, I’m grateful for my brief recharge at home, and I need to keep reminding myself that relaxation often morphs into boredom after too many days. Okay, maybe not 2 measly days, but let’s stay positive!

One of my projects during my time at home was to re-stock the freezer with easy grab-and-go breakfasts for my mom. She’s not exactly a morning person, and I know for a fact that breakfast is virtually the last thing on her mind as she gets ready for work. You know someone like that, too? Good. Make them these muffins!muffins2

These Banana Flaxseed Muffins are perfect for a quick, healthy breakfast. I like to make a full batch ahead of time and store them in the freezer for those busy mornings. They can be made gluten-free, but you can also use a mixture of whole wheat and all-purpose flour if gluten isn’t an issue. Unlike so many muffins that are basically frosting-less cupcakes, these are full of healthy ingredients to give you an energy boost without the crash. Bananas serve as the main sweetener, and they also lend the muffins a soft, moist texture. Flaxseed brings in some heart-healthy fat, and warm spices give the muffins extra flavor. You can even make them vegan by using agave nectar and soy or almond milk!

I love knowing that my mom now has a few weeks’ supply of muffins for breakfast, settled right next to the chili I made for my dad (which he will most likely not eat for breakfast, just so we’re clear). I’m sure they’re capable of fending for themselves (after all, they managed just fine until I came along) but I also know how much they miss my cooking and baking! Make your own friends and family happy by baking them a batch of these Banana Flaxseed Muffins. There’s nothing like a pre-made, homemade, healthy, on-hand breakfast to show them that you care!muffins4

Banana Flaxseed Muffins

Makes one dozen standard-size muffins

1 & 3/4 cups gluten-free flour blend (or all-purpose flour)

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum (if using gf flour)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 medium ripe bananas, mashed

1/2 cup milk (I used soy milk)

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup agave nectar or honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons ground flaxseed

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line or grease a 12-cup muffin tin and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the mashed bananas, milk, oil, agave, vanilla, and flaxseed. Using a rubber spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until no flour streaks remain. Scoop the batter evenly into the muffin tins.

Bake for 5 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 13-17 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

(Recipe adapted from Anecdotes and Apples)

Silken Chocolate Fudge Pie

IMG_4553Secret ingredients are my favorites. I love being on either end of the guessing game: the eater or the maker. I know that many people run away screaming when they’re approached with a mystery food and the claim that they’ll “never ever guess what’s in it,” but I’m certainly not one of them. I love finding out that the seemingly innocent chocolate pudding given to me with a sly grin was made out of avocado, cocoa powder, and coconut sugar; on the flip side I find it largely entertaining to watch my family try to guess what gives my black bean chili a certain depth of flavor, never suspecting that the answer is a trio of pumpkin, cinnamon, and cocoa powder. Whether it’s a dash of cinnamon in a homemade cherry pie or a can of black beans in a batch of flour-less brownies, I’m always excited to try out a recipe made with something you’d never expect.IMG_4556

This Silken Chocolate Fudge Pie can easily fool you into thinking it’s sinful. Its smooth, rich chocolatey filling tastes just like (a really good) chocolate cream pie, and it manages to be firm yet airy at the same time. I’m pretty confident that I could have eaten the entire pie if I let myself, especially when topped with a dollop of whipped cream! The best part is that even though this pie may look and taste like a dessert packed with sugar, cream, and butter, it’s surprisingly healthy!IMG_4566

Made with a short list of ingredients that are simply thrown into a food processor and blended, this pie is incredibly quick and easy. It doesn’t even need to bake! There’s no gluten or dairy involved, and in this case the sneaky little wonder ingredient is…tofu! Stick with me here. I know lots of people turn up their noses at tofu, hating on its bland mild taste and unappealing acquired texture, but in this pie it is virtually undetectable. It manages to give the pie its firmness without adding any funky aftertastes so that all you end up tasting is rich, delicious chocolate.IMG_4574

The rest of the ingredients aren’t scary at all: milk, cocoa powder, vanilla, salt, and melted chocolate. I was feeling rebellious and decided to ruin the healthiness of it all by pouring the filling into a store-bought shortbread crust (and possibly going so far as to top it with Cool Whip), but you could definitely make your own pie crust or just pour it into little ramekins and serve as a custard-y dessert. Firm tofu will create a more traditional pie that holds together well, but if you want a more mousse-like pie or  a crustless pudding, just use soft tofu. Ten points to tofu for its versatility….yet another reason it’s such a star in this recipe!IMG_4583

So, the next time you catch yourself with a chocolate craving, go the healthy route and whip up this chocolate pie! It’s guaranteed to satisfy your sweet tooth without the extra baggage of junky ingredients, and it’s also fun to serve to unsuspecting friends. I bet they’ll never guess it’s made with tofu…I know I wouldn’t have!IMG_4576

Silken Chocolate Fudge Pie

10 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

12.3 ounces firm tofu*

2 tablespoons milk (soy, almond, etc. all work fine)

1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons granulated sugar or agave nectar (more or less to taste)

1 pre-baked pie shell

Whipped cream (optional)

Directions:

Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave or in a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Place all the other ingredients into a food processor or high-powered blender and scrape in the melted chocolate. Blend or process until very smooth. Mixture will be thick.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. The longer it chills, the firmer it will be (I chilled mine overnight). Slice and serve, topped with whipped cream if desired.

*For a softer, mousse-like pie, use soft/silken tofu rather than firm

(Recipe adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie)

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

IMG_2440I’m sitting here in shorts and a tank top, the thermometer reads 78.4 degrees, and I have an awesome tan line on my neck/shoulder from wearing a side ponytail all day while out in the sun (<—fail). So basically, for all us Pacific Northwest wussies, it’s a sweltering summer day. Sorry if you happen to live in Phoenix or something and would give up an arm and a leg to have a 78.4-degree day right about now, but up here in the land of clouds and drizzle we consider this a hot day indeed. Or at least I do. But I still love it!

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Even though I really do enjoy the warmer weather, it certainly doesn’t make me too excited to turn on the oven for a baking project in the middle of the day. Instead I turn toward no-bake desserts like these awesome little energy bites. The good news about these treats is that they aren’t full of fat and sugar to weigh you down. They’re made with a super short list of fresh, healthy ingredients and are gluten-free, vegan, and contain only natural sugars. (If you’re making them gluten-free, be sure to use gf oats!) You do need a food processor for these, but if you don’t have one don’t worry. Just try these other wonderful energy balls instead!IMG_2451

My family went nuts over these cookie-dough-like bites. They’re perfect as an after-dinner treat or as a little snack to pick you up from an afternoon slump. You could even grab a few for breakfast! I love how in a matter of minutes I can be eating these delicious, nutritious little balls in a house that hasn’t turned into a sauna from a 350-degree oven. It’s almost like eating chunks of oatmeal-chocolate-peanut butter cookie dough, but the ingredients are actually good for you…summer eating at its finest!IMG_2444

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

Makes about 24 small bites

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup quick-cook oats

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup dates (about 12 dates, or 86 grams)

2 tablespoons water*

Shredded coconut, mini chocolate chips, or extra cocoa powder for rolling (optional)

Directions:

In a food processor, combine all ingredients except for the water. Process until the mixture clumps together. Add in the water and pulse until incorporated. Pinch off pieces of the mixture and form into small balls (I ended up with about 2 dozen). Roll in shredded coconut, chocolate chips, or cocoa powder if desired. Store the bites in the refrigerator.

*To make the bites a little sweeter, substitute 1 tablespoon agave nectar, honey, or maple syrup for 1 tablespoon of the water

(Recipe adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie)

Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup with Spinach

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Despite it being mid-May, recent weather around here has been more of a throwback to winter than a peek to the summer months ahead. This weekend has been one of those gray, drizzly, what-can-you-expect-it’s-the-Pacific-Northwest type of weekends, which means digging my windbreaker back out from the depths of my closet where I’d hoped it would stay until fall, having no opportunity to work on my (slightly pathetic) tan, and spending two long days either inside trying to find something to do or outside wishing the sun would make even a brief appearance. The only thing such a bleak weekend seems to be good for is soup-making, of course!

During the chilly fall and winter months, my family eats soup, stew, or chili at least once a week, often more. There’s something so comforting about a large pot simmering on the stove, ready to warm everyone up. Even though it’s spring, I figured I’d take advantage of the ugly weather to justify one last soup day before it gets too hot. Not that I’d mind sacrificing my favorite winter meal for a couple months of nice weather!

This Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup with Spinach is always a good choice. Delicious, filling, healthy, and packed with protein and veggies, it makes for a perfect dinner, especially when paired with a crusty loaf of bread. This meatless dish is full of tender vegetables and garlic; hearty lentils; fragrant thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf; and sweet tomatoes. Note that the recipe makes a LARGE pot of soup, about 10 servings, so plan on lots of tasty leftovers. The soup freezes well, too, and makes for an easy thaw-and-serve dinner.

I guess there is a silver lining to dreary, overcast days. With a bowl of this soup, it’s hard not to be a happy camper!

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Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup with Spinach

Serves 8-10

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium white or yellow onion, diced

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

1 celery stalk, diced

2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 & 1/2 cups brown lentils

60 ounces (4 15-oz cans) vegetable broth

2 cups water

2 15-oz cans diced tomatoes

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried rosemary

2 dried bay leaves

1/4 tsp black pepper (more to taste)

1 tsp sea salt (more to taste)

2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves, torn

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add in the onion and garlic and sauté for 3-5 minutes or until onion is tender. Add in the chopped carrot, celery, and sweet potatoes and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, or until vegetables are beginning to soften. Add in the lentils, broth, water, and diced tomatoes; stir well. Stir in the thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, salt, and pepper.

Bring the soup to a boil over high heat, then reduce to low and let the soup simmer for 35-40 minutes, or until lentils and sweet potatoes are tender. Turn off the heat and immediately stir in the fresh spinach until wilted. Taste for salt and pepper, remove bay leaves, and serve.

(Recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)

Banana Oat Flour Muffins (Gluten-free!)

 

IMG_3860Being a creature of habit, I eat almost the same breakfast every single day: oatmeal. I love it for being quick, easy, healthy, wholesome, delicious, inexpensive, and incredibly versatile when it comes to add-ins. That’s a whole lot of plus factors for one single food! Even though I almost always eat oatmeal in the mornings, I like to mix things up when it comes to toppings. Some days I go for chopped apple, cinnamon, and a drizzle of maple syrup, while other days I’m in the mood for classic blueberries & honey, the combo that I always went for when I was little. I love adding raisins, chunks of pear, sliced strawberries, really any type of fruit! My favorite combo, however, is diced banana, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The hot oatmeal warms the banana and you end up with a bowl of hot, sweet, warmly spiced deliciousness. I know, I know, I’m weird. What can I say, I like my oatmeal! 🙂

On the busiest of busy mornings, even oatmeal can be too time-consuming. That’s where this wonderful little recipe comes in! These Banana Oat Flour Muffins are basically a grab-and-go version of oatmeal: chock full of hearty oats and oat flour, a splash of milk, and some add-ins/flavorings of your choice. That’s it!! I made these without any sugar at all (not counting the banana and raisins) and they were still plenty sweet in my mind. Especially if you’re enjoying these for breakfast, the extra sweetness really doesn’t seem necessary. As far as the other ingredients go, just use your favorite oatmeal additions! I of course went for my favorite banana/cinnamon/nutmeg combo, along with a little almond flavoring, but the possibilities are endless: try using unsweetened applesauce in place of the banana, vanilla extract instead of the almond, any type of dried fruit instead of the raisins, or a little peanut butter. You could add a couple tablespoons of cocoa powder for an extra-delicious chocolate version, too! Maybe I’ll experiment with a cocoa/peanut butter/banana edition the next time I make these….and there will definitely be a next time!

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Oatmeal-lovers and muffin-lovers alike are bound to LOVE these babies! The muffins also freeze very well, so you can make a big batch and simply grab one out of the freezer in the morning, nuke it in the microwave for a few seconds, and enjoy a quick, healthy, yummy breakfast on-the-go. What more can you ask for?

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Banana Oat Flour Muffins

2 cups oat flour

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Pinch of ground nutmeg

1 large ripe banana, mashed

1 cup milk (I used vanilla almond milk)

1/2 tsp almond extract or vanilla extract (optional)

1/4 cup brown sugar*

1/2 cup raisins

Topping:

1 Tbs brown sugar, packed

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line with paper muffin cups. Set aside.

Whisk together the oat flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix together the mashed banana, milk, almond extract, and brown sugar until well-combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the oat mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in the raisins. The batter will be thick.

Scoop the batter into prepared muffin tins. In a small bowl, mix together the 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Sprinkle over the muffins.  Bake for 12-15 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean and muffin tops bounce back when lightly pressed. Let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer muffins onto a cooling rack. Serve.

Leftovers can be frozen or stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

*You can make these muffins sugar-free by simply leaving out the brown sugar. I made these with no sugar at all except that from the banana, vanilla almond milk, and raisins, and they turned out delicious. However, if you aren’t used to eating less-sweet muffins, I would recommend including the brown sugar.

(Recipe adapted from Happy Herbivore)