Black Bean Brownies

IMG_1093If it wasn’t in the title, you wouldn’t believe the secret ingredient in these moist and chocolatey gluten-free brownies was a can of black beans! I found this recipe on, and it  had been raved about by many-a reader. I’m experimenting with a gluten-free diet, and have been going crazy for some baked goods, preferably something that didn’t taste like ground chalk had been used in lieu of flour. (Those of you who’ve had to avoid gluten for a while know what I’m talking about…) This looked intriguing, and as it only makes a 9″x9″ pan, I figured I didn’t have much to loose if they were nasty. But surprise, surprise! They weren’t a waste of ingredients or time—they went together in just minutes, and tasted pretty good.

IMG_1080The first time I made these, I added both a teaspoon of baking soda and baking powder to the mix, as other reviewers suggested it would make them more cake-like. That was too much leavening, and they tasted metallic. (They also sunk in the middle, another sign of too much soda or powder.) I dusted them with powdered sugar instead of frosting them, and as my co-worker Darin said, they looked so rich and dark, you expected a little more chocolate taste than you got. (Darin is SUCH a whiner… Not!) So the next time I made them, I frosted them with half a recipe of buttercream frosting (from the back of the Hershey’s cocoa container), and that gave me the rich chocolate flavor I was lusting after. Using only 1 teaspoon baking soda worked better, too. The next time I make them, I think I’ll try them without any soda, and see if they come out fudgey, or just gooey. 

Note that you will need a blender or food processor to have success with this batter, and you’ll want to puree until no grains of bean remain before baking. Other than that, this recipe is a piece of cake! Or more accurately, a chunk of brownie. 

1 (15½ ounce) can black beans (rinsed and drained)
3 eggs
3 tablespoons oil
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup sugar

Buttercream frosting

3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1-2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Combine ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until completely pureed. Pour into a greased 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ cake pan or baking dish. Bake for approximately 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting or cutting.

For frosting, cream butter in medium mixing bowl, using wire whisk attachment for mixer. In separate medium-size bowl, combine powdered sugar and cocoa. Add about half of sugar and cocoa to creamed butter, then drizzle some milk into bowl and stir. Add the rest of sugar/cocoa, and the vanilla, and as much milk as needed to make frosting a good spreading consistency. Frost cooled brownies. Lick bowl, spatula, beaters, etc. Wipe face to remove evidence.

Blueberry Breakfast Bars

IMG_0979Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or bedtime snack—these bars are a hit any time. This was a recipe request when I wrote a food column for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and was wildly popular with subscribers.  It had been circulated by WIC as a healthy (or healthier than sugary cereals) and kid-friendly recipe at one time. Fresh or frozen fruit work equally well in these bars, and I’ve made them with either blueberries or raspberries, too. Strawberries do NOT work well in this recipe, so save yourself the hassle (and waste) and don’t bother with those berries. Because these are deliciously soft, they fall apart when I’ve tried to send them in a school lunch bag, so cut and serve the bars at home, or bring a pan to share with co-workers. Others will be glad you decided to share the love.

Makes 15 bars

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
½ cup chopped pecans
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup butter, melted
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (or raspberries)
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons lemon juice (optional – I’ve made it without and can’t taste the difference!)

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease a 9″x13″ glass baking dish. In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, flour, brown sugar, nuts, baking soda, and salt. Pour melted butter over top and stir until all ingredients are coated with butter. Reserve 1 cup of the mixture. Press remaining mixture onto bottom of prepared dish. Bake for 10 minutes.

While base is baking, combine berries, sugar, and 2 tablespoons water. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 2 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. In small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon water cornstarch, and lemon juice. Mix well. Gradually stir into blueberry mixture. Cook and stir for 30 seconds or until thickened.

Spread berry mixture over baked base to within 1-inch of edge, and sprinkle reserved oat mixture on top. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack. Cut into bars. Store tightly covered.

Oatmeal Carmelitas

FullSizeRenderOats and caramel and chocolate—oh my! This recipe was entered in the Pillsbury Bake-Off by Minnesotan Erlyce Larson in 1967, and won hands down. One bite of these gooey taste treats, and you’ll agree whole-heartedly with the judges decision. My friend Lois brought these to a gathering at our house, and they were the hit of the dessert table. (I consumed more than my fair share, so that’s why there are so few left on the plate in the photo. Sadly, this image doesn’t do them justice.) My mother makes a similar Caramel Candy Bar (posted a few weeks ago). Mom’s recipe is to die for, but her recipe requires laboriously unwrapping dozens of caramel candies to make the luscious middle layer, while this recipe uses a short-cut—a jar of caramel ice cream topping. Next time you’re planning a party, invite Lois. And ask her to bring these heavenly bars. Mmmmmm.


2 cups all-purpose or unbleached flour
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups margarine or butter, softened


1 (12.5 ounce) jar (1 cup) caramel ice cream topping
3 tablespoons all-purpose or unbleached flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease 13″ x 9″ pan. In large bowl, combine all crust ingredients; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, combine caramel topping and 3 tablespoons flour; blend well.

Remove partially baked crust from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with caramel mixture; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Return to oven; bake an additional 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 1 hour or until completely cooled. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until filling is set. Cut into bars.

Squirrel Bars

IMG_0896Don’t worry—no squirrels were harmed in making these scrumptious chocolate and pecan bars. Originally called “Chocolate Nut Toffee Bars,” this recipe came from a magazine insert promoting Eagle® Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk and Hershey’s products. And of course there’s a story behind our re-naming… The first time I made these, I set them out on our porch to cool. When I went out to get the bars an hour later, all the nuts had been stealthily removed, and there were tiny little claw marks marring the top chocolate layer. It looked like a miniature version of Wolverine had attacked the pan. Henceforth, the bars have been called “Squirrel Bars” at our house. We have often wondered if some poor little squirrel needed a few cavities filled after digging into our treats…

The bottom layer is similar to shortbread, only cocoa powder has been added to give the crust a chocolate twist. As simmered sweetened condensed milk makes up the middle layer, and just chocolate chips and nuts top them off, they whip up rather quickly. The hardest thing about this recipe is waiting for them to cool so you can eat them. But if you happen to be a squirrel, no need to wait. Feel free to dive right in.

Makes 24-36 bars

1 cup butter, softened (divided)
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Hershey’s cocoa powder
1 (14-ounce) can Eagle® Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk (NOT evaporated milk)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (6 ounces) Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips*
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease 9″x13″ glass baking dish. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the softened butter for use later. In large mixer bowl, beat remaining butter and sugar until fluffy. Add flour and cocoa, mix well. With floured hands, press cocoa mixture into bottom of prepared baking pan. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in medium sauce pan, combine reserved butter and sweetened condensed milk. Cook on medium to low heat, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Pour over baked crust. Bake 10 minutes longer, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately top with chocolate chips. Let stand 1 minutes, then smooth out melted chips with back of large spoon while still warm. Top with nuts. Cool. Cut into bars. Store covered at room temperature.

*I’m a fan of Nestle’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips myself, but I have to be true to the originators of the recipe here.

Caramel Candy Bars

IMG_0884Some foods are good because of the warm memories attached to them as much as the ingredients. These gooey caramel and chocolate bars fall into that category. My mother always made these for trips to my cousin Dale’s lake property, and my sisters and I couldn’t wait to get to Swan Lake—of course we were pumped to go water skiing, but digging into these decadent bars was a top priority, too. Mom would make a couple batches, cut and stack them in a Folger’s coffee can with wax paper between each layer, and stash ’em in the freezer. (Unlike most baked goods, these suffer no ill-consequences from being frozen!) Once these were pulled from their secret hiding place, the frozen squares would thaw in about 15 minutes, and were the consistency of a chewy candy bar. With mouths full of chocolate-caramel goodness, we could forget about itching our mosquito bites for a while. (And how deathly afraid we were to go to the latrine alone.)

A couple nights ago, we took a trip down memory lane when my Mom brought over a pan of bars. They were even better than I remembered—partly because this time we weren’t covered in mosquito bites, and dreading trips through the dark woods to the outhouse.

These are very similar to the Pillsbury Bake-off Carmelita Oat Bars (to be posted later), except this recipe uses caramel candies, more butter, and has double the amount of chocolate chips and nuts. More butter, chocolate, and nuts? Can’t go wrong there.

Makes 45-48 bars


2 cups All-purpose or unbleached flour
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups margarine or butter, softened


64 Kraft caramels, unwrapped*
1/2 cup half and half, or milk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease large baking sheet (10″ x 15″). In large bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, and butter; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine caramels and milk in glass bowl or large glass measuring cup, and heat on high in microwave for about 3 minutes, or until mixture can be stirred smooth.

Remove partially baked crust from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with melted caramels; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Return to oven; bake an additional 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 30 minutes to 1 hour, then cut into bars. Store bars in airtight container with wax paper between layers. They can be left at room temp once completely cooled, or frozen to be served at a later time.

*This is a bit of a chore. If unwrapping these candies is too tedious for you, call my Dad. He has the patience of a saint and happily performs the task, knowing the end result will be some sinfully delicious treats.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bars

banana bars IMG_0632Have over-ripe bananas on hand, and you think banana bread is your only option? Think again! I stumbled upon these bars about a year ago when I was slotted to bring treats to a meeting at work. I had planned to make banana bread, but realized last minute there was only one egg in the frig, and it was too late at night to beg another off a neighbor. So I went scrounging through my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, circa 1996, hoping for divine inspiration. Inspiration did come, and my co-workers will tell you, it was divine.

OK, divine might be too strong a word. But the ratio of butter to bananas makes these bars moist and delicious, and once you try this recipe, you won’t bother with banana bread ever again. Seriously! These are also super easy to make. The batter stirs up in about 5-10 minutes, just long enough to preheat your oven. And if you’ve got the over-ripe bananas on hand, you’re in luck, because the rest of the ingredients are kitchen staples. (Note: I had to sub in slivered almonds for pecans in the bars pictured here, but I really prefer the pecans.)

My youngest son has found that these bars also work as currency at college. He’s used them to barter rides with friends. Who knew a silly little banana bar could wield so much power?

Makes 20 bars

3/4 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2-3 medium)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup Nestle semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease a 13″x18″ baking sheet with butter, and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl beat the butter with electric mixer on high until creamed. Add the granulated sugar, and cream. Add the brown sugar and cream again. Add baking powder and salt and cream, stirring down sides of mixing bowl. Beat until all ingredients are combined, and mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, then add bananas and vanilla and beat again until combined. Gradually add flour and stir on low until it is all incorporated. Remove bowl from mixer stand and stir in chocolate chips and chopped nuts by hand.

Spread mixture in the prepared baking pan. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Store in airtight container (…or bring to work and you won’t have to worry about storing them at all).