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Watermelon Hearts with Sweet Mint Pesto

I think the adage about a watched pot never boiling holds true for ripening blackberries as well.  Every day I check on my almost-ripe blackberries and even with the crazy hot days we’ve had recently, they’re still not ripe — almost, but not quite. 

Our mint, on the other hand, is going crazy.  Jon’s been making good use of the crop with copious batches of mint juleps, but I wanted to use some of these fragrant leaves for more than a bourbon delivery system.  So I took a cue from the nearby basil leaves that I’ve been turning into savory pesto, and decided to turn the tables on the whole pesto experience with — ta da — Sweet Mint Pesto!!  What a revelation. 
As you can see from the above photo, my first inclination was to go all fancy and cut out some watermelon hearts.  Place just a little dab of sweet mint pesto onto a piece of watermelon, pop in your mouth, and let the fun begin.  It made me wish watermelons were in season for Valentine’s Day, because they are perfect for shaping into hearts of all sizes and could be used in all sorts of elegant dessert presentations.  But since lots of us have our wedding anniversaries in the summer, I’m sure the idea of heart-shaped watermelon will be getting lots of use.  Here’s the recipe for Sweet Mint Pesto:

Sweet Mint Pesto
1/3 cup unsalted cashews or macadamia nuts
1 teaspoon white chocolate chips (optional)
2 cups loosely packed mint leaves
2 to 3 tablespoons agave nectar
In a food processor, grind the cashews and chocolate chips (if using). Add the mint leaves and 2 tablespoons of the agave and process to a paste.  For a sweeter pesto, add more agave.
Ways to use Sweet Mint Pesto:
·        Serve it alongside watermelon cut-outs (as shown) to dab on top of the melon.
·        Spread the mint pesto on a plain cake, cupcake, or muffin.
·        Add mint pesto to a brownie or cake batter recipe (in place of some of the wet ingredients).
·        Stir almond milk or coconut milk into the pesto to thin it a bit and make a thick creamy sauce:   Add blueberries and toss to coat for: Blueberries in Sweet Mint Cream. Yum.
Speaking of blueberries…. While I’m waiting for my personal supply of blackberries to ripen, I’ve also been having lots of fun with blueberries (even beyond tossing them with the mint cream!). 
I love the combination of blueberries and chocolate, so you know those Chocolate Surprise Brownies from Vegan on the Cheap — the ones made with not only black beans, but also coffee and banana?  Last week I substituted blueberries for the banana (I pulsed the blueberries to a chunky puree) and — wow.  I also tossed some whole blueberries on top of the brownie batter about halfway through baking.  They may not have been the prettiest brownies in the world, but they sure were the tastiest!

Chocolate Surprise Brownies

The biggest surprise in these Chocolate Surprise Brownies lies in the combination of unusual ingredients that goes into making them. In addition to the usual suspects, such as cocoa and vegan chocolate chips, these chocolatey treats also include black beans, coffee, and bananas, resulting in rich brownies that not only taste great, they’re also economical, easy to make, and are lower in fat and sugar than many of their counterparts.

Chocolate Surprise Brownies are from my new book, Vegan on the Cheap and, as promised, I’m sharing the recipe below. Recipe testers pronounced these browinies “incredible” and “oooh so yummy!” When I made them for my brownie-loving husband, they disappeared in a flash. (No surprise there.)

Chocolate Surprise Brownies
(This recipe is from Vegan on the Cheap by Robin Robertson © 2010, John Wiley & Sons.)

1 cup cooked or canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons canola oil
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 ripe banana
2 tablespoons instant coffee
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup semi-sweet vegan chocolate chips
1/2 cup walnut pieces (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch baking pan and set aside.
2. In a blender or food processor, combine the black beans, sugar, and oil, and blend until smooth. Add the cocoa, banana, coffee, and vanilla, and blend until smooth.
3. Scrape the mixture into a mixing bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips and walnut pieces, if using.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pan completely, then refrigerate for several hours before cutting into squares.