Brownie Bites

FullSizeRender-1My neighbor Diane sent me this recipe for brownie fake-outs after she heard I was doing the Whole30 cleanse, knowing that giving up chocolate for a month might be a bit of a challenge. (That’s the understatement of the year…) Looking at the short ingredient list, you wouldn’t think you could possibly get a chocolate fix out of these morsels, but they do taste surprisingly rich and fudge-like. I found I needed a ½ cup more dates than the author of the recipe on used in order to get the ingredients to stick together. I also felt more salt was needed for flavor, so doubled the amount.

The oil from the walnuts makes these pretty slippery when you are shaping them, so I rolled half of mine in toasted coconut to see if that absorbed some of the oil, and made them look like truffles. Then I tested the recipe on my book club babes, and they liked the fudge bites both with, and without the coconut. These were best served within 24 hours, as they started drying out and getting crumbly after a day in the frig. If I make these again, I’m thinking it might be a good idea to wrap each one in plastic wrap to keep them moist. I’m also thinking I really, really, REALLY want an honest-to-goodness brownie made with flour and butter and sugar. But this is a nutritious alternative, one loaded with omega-3 fats from the walnuts. If you want something loaded with the other stuff, keep on lookin’. It ain’t here.

Makes 1 dozen

1½ cups raw walnut halves
1½ cups soft, pitted dates
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon water
½ cup shredded, unsweetened coconut, toasted *

I food processor fitted with “S” blade, grind walnuts into a fine meal. Add dates, cocoa, vanilla, and salt, and process until ingredients stick together and start to form a dough. Shape tablespoons of dough into balls, and place in parchment-lined container. Cover and place in frig to set. Once firm, wrap each brownie bite in plastic wrap. Return to frig to keep until serving or grabbing for lunches or snacks.

*NOTE: Toasting coconut brings out the natural sugars, and enhances flavor. Preheat oven to 375°. Place shredded coconut on baking sheet and toast for 5 minutes, then stir and toast for additional 5 minutes, or until coconut is golden brown. Cool before rolling brownie bites in toasted coconut.

Date, Cashew, and Coconut Bars

IMG_1550The name says it all…only three ingredients needed to make these delicious Lärabar fake-outs. Having just finished week one of the Whole30 cleanse, I was missing “treats,” meaning bars or cookies, so I went searching for something to scratch that itch. (I know you aren’t supposed to feed your “sugar dragon,” but you are allowed to do snacks for when you’re on the go. So let’s just pretend I’m on the go. A lot.)

I had taste-testers at work and at home try these no-bake bars, giving no explanation other than that they were gluten-free. Everyone who tried them—GF, DF, or not—thought they were really good, and did NOT think they tasted like they were gluten-free. The dates provide both sweetness and glue for the other ingredients, and the nuts and coconuts give them good flavor and crunch. (Since I found this recipe multiple places online, I don’t really know who to give credit to, so pardon me for not citing my source!)

You will need a food processor to mix these, and I don’t think a blender would work as a substitute. These can be pricey ingredients, so I looked around before buying. I found the best price for pitted dates at Costco (if you get your kicks pitting dates, go ahead and do that—I’ve been cooking and chopping my butt off this week, and pitting my own dates would have put me over the edge). I got my raw cashews and unsweetened coconut at Trader Joe’s, as the price was better than Whole Foods or Cub. Next time I purchase ingredients, I’ll take note of the exact prices and figure out how much these cost per bar.

The first time I made these, I used just three ingredients, which worked great. I just made these again, and added the zest and juice of one whole lime, and it helped them stick together better, and made a moister bar. But if you aren’t in the mood for citrus, you can certainly leave that out! Word of warning: you have to keep these refrigerated. They stay chewy if kept cold, and get mushy and fall apart if left at room temp. That’s where packaged Lärabars have these beat—those are more portable.

Makes 12 bars

1 cup whole pitted dates (Medjool or Deglet Noor)
1 cup raw cashews*
1 cup unsweetened flaked or shredded coconut
Zest and juice of one whole lime (optional)

Preheat oven to 375º. Layer the raw cashews on a baking sheet, and toast in oven for 10-15 minutes, stirring once. Toast until golden brown. May sprinkle cashews with salt before toasting. Let cool.

Combine all dates, nuts, and coconut in food processor. Add lime zest and juice, if using. Pulse for a couple minutes, until the ingredients are in bits, and start to stick together. (See below.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and transfer date mixture to pan. Push together to form a ball, then flatten into rough rectangle. Place a layer of plastic wrap on top, then continue pressing into a smoother rectangle, until about ½” thick. (See below.) Chill for 30-60 minutes. Cut into bars, and wrap each bar in plastic wrap. Store in frig to grab as needed.

*NOTE: Why toast the nuts yourself? Because most pre-roasted nuts are cooked in canola oil, and that’s not Whole30 approved. If you’re making these for a nutritious snack and not as part of Whole30 cleanse, then go ahead and purchase the roasted nuts.




Date and Prune Quick Bread

Date-Prune-Bread3-IMG_0644Quick breads are a good way to include fruits, nuts, and herbs in your baked goods, and are called “quick” because they use a leavening agent (baking powder or soda) instead of yeast to rise the dough. No lengthy proofing and punching involved! But you remembered that little factoid from Home Ec classes, right? This bread is loaded with dried fruits, and fills the kitchen with a wonderful, homey aroma when baking. I was reminded about this recipe by my friend and fellow blogger Addis (Ethiomama), who remembered having this at a party we hosted six months ago! It’s that good. We’d served a platter of homemade quick breads and cheeses, and this one was the show stopper. The recipe is from a Lunds and Byerly’s issue of “Real Food” (Winter 2013), and I make it just as the author Serena Bass instructs, except for switching pecans for the suggested walnuts. I also found I had to bake my bread 10-15 minutes longer in order for it to be done in the center. That time adjustment is reflected below.

The sweetness of the bread makes a nice contrast to a goat cheese or other strong, pungent cheese, if you want to pair it with something. It’s great at a brunch, or for bringing as a hostess gift. It will keep for up to two weeks in the frig (if it lasts that long), but it doesn’t freeze well. I’ve kept it out on the counter for the two or three days it takes to consume a loaf, and that’s worked well. Wrap in wax paper or parchment paper once cooled, and then use foil on top of that for a tighter seal. The recipe author says to never use foil right against the bread.

Makes 1 loaf

1 cup dates, cut in thirds (or dried, chopped dates)
1 cup prunes, cut in thirds
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup pecans, toasted (at 350° Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, then chopped)

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease a 9″x5″x4″ loaf pan with butter, then line bottom and sides with parchment paper. Set aside.

Place dates, prunes, raisins, and baking soda in a bowl and pour 1 cup boiling water over the dried fruits. Mix together and let sit for no less than 1 hour, and up to 2 hours.

In electric mixer bowl, cream butter, add sugar, and beat 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat another 2 minutes. Slowly add flour and stir until incorporated. Add in fruit and stir slowly to combine. Stir in nuts by hand. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 70-80 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in center comes out dry. Cool in pan. Remove from pan and peel off parchment paper. Slice, and eat!