Get into the holiday baking mood with Banana Strawberry Bread with optional chocolate chips–with gluten-free and vegan options

“As long as you know how to bake, life is sure to be sweet!”–Unknown

One Sunday afternoon this past summer, I was talking with my Dad via phone as he now lives in Florida.  He shared that after church service, a fellow worshiper shared slices of homemade strawberry bread with others.  Listening to Dad, I decided to add “strawberry bread” to my list of writing/cooking ideas.  Of course, Dad was not surprised.

It took some trial and error, but I think I found the sweet spot.  Of course, when I bake, I am trying to meet unique dietary needs.  Selfishly, I prefer baking recipes that have the ability to be gluten free due to my celiac disease; however, I also like to find versatile ingredient scaffolding for those that can safely consume wheat.  Furthermore, I choose to eat plant-based; therefore, I also like to play with ingredients that offer that option as well.  Bottom line, however, if it tastes good and is easy to make, most people don’t care if it’s gluten-free and/or plant-based. 

Photo by solod_sha on Pexels.com

The recipe all came together after picking up a grocery order one day only to discover I was given extremely ripe, fully brown bananas instead of bright yellow.  Once I saw those bananas, I knew how I wanted to create my own version of strawberry bread.  I took further inspiration from The Big Man’s World website.  

Strawberries and bananas are complementary and commonly paired in many food items, such as drink mixes, smoothies, yogurts, fruit-cups, and so forth.  Additionally, bananas are one way to bake without eggs to bind ingredients together into a batter with a creamy texture and balanced moisture composition.  Furthermore, bananas add a subtle sweetness to baking recipes that tends to compliment many ingredients.  

Photo by Kimona on Pexels.com

When baking without eggs, I also add a tablespoon of vinegar.  This depression era egg replacement reacts with the baking soda to create carbon dioxide that helps baked goods rise as they bake.  Plus, vinegar overall improves bread texture, whether baking with or without eggs.

You may notice that I use date sugar in this recipe, although it can be replaced with your preferred form of sugar. Date sugar is considered less processed due to the fact that it is made from dried dates pulverized into a powder; therefore, it retains much of its fiber and nutrients.  That said, don’t be fooled, it is still sugar, and like any sweetener, it should be consumed in moderation.

If you like to bake for the holiday season, this bread will lend itself to potluck gatherings, as it can be made a day or two ahead of time.  It would also make a nice holiday gift or simply a fun weekend addition to brunch.  It stores well, becoming more moist with age. I have toasted leftover slices of it in my air-fryer and reheated it in the microwave–either way works.  Plus, you can substitute your favorite chopped nuts in lieu of the chocolate chips–I just happen to like chocolate!  It’s tasty plain or smeared with butter or cream cheese as my daughter and husband  do or with your favorite nut butter, as I like to do.

This recipe is versatile, using fresh or frozen fruit. (Hint: I save all over-ripe bananas–and even strawberries–in a freezer bag in my freezer and pull out what I need anytime I’m baking!) Notice all the ways I offer substitutions for the original ingredients I used, so that you can meet your own individual needs/taste preferences.  Sprinkle the top of the batter with crystallized or festive-colored sugar before baking if desired and find ways to make this recipe your own!

From my home to yours, here’s to holiday baking!

Banana Strawberry Bread with optional chocolate chips

 with gluten free and vegan options

Ingredients

2 cups oat flour, can replace with all-purpose or gluten free flour

1/2 cup date sugar, can replace with regular or brown sugar

¾ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cup mashed banana (about 2 bananas)

1/4 cup applesauce, can replace with oil or melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup milk, dairy or non-dairy work

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

½ + ¼  cup + sliced strawberries, frozen or fresh

¼  cup + 1 tablespoon chocolate chips, gluten free and/or vegan; 

(can replace chocolate chips with chopped nuts)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Prepare loaf by spraying with nonstick cooking spray

Mash banana and set aside

In a large mixing bowl, stir together dry ingredients

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients

Stir in remaining ingredients, including banana, into the dry EXCEPT for strawberries and chocolate chips

Fold in ½ cup of sliced strawberries and ¼ cup of chocolate chips

Pour batter into loaf pan

Top with remaining strawberries and chocolate chips

Bake for 50-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean

Cool in pan for 10 or so minutes, use spatula to gently lift out of the loaf pan.

Finish cooling on wire rack

Slice to serve.

Can be kept in an airtight container, once completely cooled, in the fridge for up to five days.

Can also be stored in a ziplock freezer bag and frozen for up to 3 months.

In a large bowl stir together dry ingredients and make a well in the center. Then set aside.
In a medium bowl, stir together wet ingredients.
Pour wet ingredients into the center of dry ingredients and mix with spoon until blended.
Finally, stir in sliced (or chopped, if preferred) strawberries and chocolate chips or nuts.
Bake in oven, and allow it to cool in pan at least 10 minutes before using a spatula to gently lift out loaf. Set loaf on cooling rack, and allow it to continue to cool.
Slice it up and eat it plain or with your favorite toppings, such as maple syrup, honey, nut butter, butter, or cream cheese to name a few.
Personally, I love nut butter smeared on a heated slice and allow the warmth of the bread to melt it.

Chocolate Chip Muffins, gluten-free, plant-based options

Procrastibaking: the art of making muffins instead of whatever else you should be doing.”–as seen on INTO THE COOKIE JAR

I had work to do, but there it sat.  The lone, leftover banana.  Muddled and marred by dark brown spots, hiding its inner-sweetness.  Too mushy to eat, but perfect for baking.  But what?

Nosing around in my cabinets, I noticed a partial bag of chocolate chips.  Hmm?  Maybe I could bake chocolate chip cookies, but would I be able to use a banana in it?  Not sure if that would work, at least regarding taste.  Then, it hit me like a Monday morning: muffins!

Photo by Anton Uniqueton on Pexels.com

I was pretty sure that I had once read that bananas can be used as a substitute for an egg in a recipe.  Sure enough, for once, my memory was correct. One banana equals one egg. Now don’t get me wrong, bananas cannot do everything an egg can do when baking, but in a recipe such as this one, where I am also including vinegar and baking soda, bananas are a decent substitute.  

Speaking of vinegar . . . Why add it to baking?  Historically speaking, vinegar has been used in baking for centuries.  One such example was during the Great Depression when rations, such as eggs and butter, were limited.  One teaspoon of baking soda combined with one tablespoon of vinegar makes baked goods light and fluffy.  Even if you are using an egg, adding one tablespoon of vinegar to a cake, cookie, or bread recipe will help batter rise, increase moisture, and even brighten the color.  

Photo by Rosana Solis on Pexels.com

Regarding flours, you will notice that I chose a combination of two different types as well as oat bran.  This was an intentional choice due to the fact that I have celiac disease, so I cannot consume wheat.  Additionally, I wanted to increase the fiber/nutritional content of these muffins while keeping the texture light and fluffy side.  Think of it as a compromise–balancing out the white flour and sugar with the nutritional profile of oats!  Plus, I happen to like baking with oats and oat flour due to the texture and moisture oats tend to create while not lending an overpowering flavor.  Nonetheless, you could use almond flour, rice flour, or other preferred varieties. In fact, you could simply use nothing but all-purpose flour if that is your preference.  As long as the total amount of flour remains the same, most flours should be fine!

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Finally, feel free to play around with the stir-ins.  There’s up to one cup total, so make the recipe yours.  Stir in raisins, walnuts, peanut butter chips, dried cranberries, chopped dates, butterscotch chips, chopped pecans, and so forth.  Make the recipe fit both your taste preferences and/or the ingredients you have on hand. 

Once these muffins are baked and cool enough to serve, slather one with butter or your favorite nut butter.  Dip them in maple syrup–who says it’s for pancakes only?  Drizzle agave or honey over the tops.  Then again, eat ‘em plain–after all, they will be plenty moist! 

Customize this recipe, and make it work for you and yours!  Then, hit me up on social media, or send me an email, and let me know what variation worked for you!  In the meantime, enjoy procrastibaking! 🙂  

Chocolate Chip Muffins, with gluten-free, plant based options

Recipe inspired by Betty Crocker’s 40th Anniversary Edition Cookbook Betty Crocker’s Cookbook/40th Anniversary Edition Hardcover – September 1, 1991,

Allergy AwesomenessRhian’s Recipes, HealthyGirl Kitchen

Ingredients:

¾  cup oat flour*

¾ cup oat bran*

1 cup all purpose flour, gluten-free flour*

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 ripe banana

1 cup milk, any variation

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon white or apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ -1 cup chocolate chips, gluten-free and/or vegan if desired/needed

½ cup chopped walnuts, optional

Sparkling sugar

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line 12 muffin tins with parchment paper or nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Mash banana in a medium bowl.

Stir in milk, sugar, vanilla, and vinegar.

Gently combine liquid ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined.

Fold in chocolate chips and/or nuts, if using.

Divide batter evenly among cups.

Top with extra chips, and/or sprinkle with sparkling sugar, if desired.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry.

Allow muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before turning onto a cooling rack.

Serve immediately.

Can store leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 days, or can freeze for up to 3 months.

After refrigerating or freezing muffins, reheat muffins before serving.

Makes 12. 

*Notes: Feel free to mix and match types of flours, and even leave out the bran, to suit your needs/taste preferences as long as the total amount of flour used equals 2 ½ cups.  Additionally, while I have to bake/eat gluten free and choose to eat plant based, you choose the ingredients that match your preferences.  Finally, you can use an egg, ¼ cup applesauce, or ¼ cup yogurt to replace the banana if desired or don’t have a banana on hand.

You’ll need two bowls.
Mix your dry ingredients in one bowl.
Mash your banana well.
Stir in wet ingredients with banana.
Pour wet ingredients into dry and gently mix.
Be sure to preheat oven and prepare muffin tins. I prefer parchment liners.
Stir in those luscious chocolate chips.

Divide batter evenly and top with desired toppings. I added mini chocolate chips and white sugar.
Allow muffins to cool on a rack, but feel free to serve warm!

Enjoy the yummy results of procrastibaking!

Reese of Mind Donuts (gluten-free, egg-free, & dairy-free options)

“Fresh popcorn is near impossible to resist, second only to fresh donuts.”–Shannon Wiersbitzky, What Flowers Remember 

For years, I watched with glazed eyes as others enjoyed donuts. 

Donut go breaking my heart!” I would say to friends and family as they enjoyed their orbs of confectionary perfection. 

Donut worry, be happy!” They would reply, driving me glazy as they handed me a gluten free granola bar. “It’s hole-some.”  While I donut want to be ungrateful for their thoughtfulness, a granola bar donut really have a hole of my taste buds.  

I donut have to circle around these orbs of deliciousness.

After years of circling around all of those boxes of glaziness, watching others enjoy those holesome spheres of sweetness, I declared to myself, “Donut let them kill your vibe, Steph!  You can simply create your own glaze-of-glory confection!

Away in the solitude of my home work space, feeling glazed and confused, I did what any self-respecting donut-deprived punster would do, scroll the internet for recipe inspiration.  I donut, I mean, would not, stop believin’ that I could create a glazy alternative–one that was as close to being as hole food as possible with gluten-free, plant based ingredients.  Donut tell me I can’t! 

Ooey-gooey peanut buttery goodness!!

Thus, my holesome quest began.  Since then, I have created recipes for Blueberry Lemon-drop donuts and Chocolate donuts with chocolate glaze.  So what makes this recipe different from the previous chocolate donut recipe?  This recipe comes with the reese of mind that the ingredients are all holesome AND has the added benefit of protein and oats. 

Well, maybe the chocolate chips and powdered sugar aren’t particularly as healthy as some of the other ingredients?  But holey-moley, donut judge me.  You can just glaze over that part! Besides I am fairly certain I sense reesent traces of confectioners sugar on your lips!

Enjoy this gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free wonder without any worry of stomach upset!

While these donuts may not bring world reese, they may have your taste buds singing, “Hole me closer, tiny donut.”  May this recipe, or should I say, reese-ipe really get a hole of you, and may you love them a hole lot!

P. S. Reese and desist from blaming me for all of the bad puns, I may have eaten one too many drunkin’ donuts! 

Donut cry anymore when the donut box gets passed around, fellow celiacs. You can make your own!

Reese of Mind Donuts  (gluten-free, egg-free, & dairy-free options)

Donut Ingredients:

¾ cup oat flour (Can use regular oats and used food processor to make it flour)

1 serving chocolate protein powder (I use plant protein.) 

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 tablespoon ground flax seed

2-3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup applesauce or yogurt

½ cup milk (I use plant based.)

1 tablespoon vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional: ¼ cup chopped Reese’s pieces 

Glaze Ingredients:

1 tablespoon melted butter or coconut oil (I use plant based butter.)

3 tablespoon natural peanut butter, melted

½  teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ – ½ + cup powdered sugar

2+ tablespoons milk (I use plant based.) 

Batter will be thick, but easy to spoon into donut molds.

Donut Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat 6-donut pan with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour, protein powder, cocoa powder, flax seed, sugar, baking soda and salt) until well combined.

In a small bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (vinegar, applesauce, milk, and vanilla).

Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix–batter should look/feel thick.  If using chopped Reese’s pieces, gently stir them with wet ingredients.

Divide batter evenly among donut molds.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool 5-10 minutes before turning over onto cooling rack.

They’re actually tasty without any glaze or chopped reese’s pieces stirred in and with less sugar! However, feel free to drizzle a bit of melted peanut butter on the top if you choose not to glaze!

Glaze Directions:

In a medium microwave safe bowl, combine butter (or oil) and peanut butter.

Warm in microwave until melted and smooth, stirring occasionally to incorporate.

Stir in vanilla and powdered sugar, stir to combine, adding more powdered sugar if desired.

Gradually stir in milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired glaze consistency is achieved.

Using a spoon, drizzle glaze over cooled donuts.

Feel free to top donuts with chopped peanuts, mini chocolate chips, chocolate sprinkles, or crushed Reeses pieces.

Serve immediately.  Can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator, or frozen for up to three months.

These are so easy to make. They will give you gluten-free reese of mind!

An Ounce of Prevention Goes a Long Way to Preventing Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Currently more than 55 million people live with dementia worldwide, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year. . . . Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and may contribute to 60-70% of cases. . . . Dementia is currently the seventh leading cause of death among all diseases and one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people globally.”–World Health Organization, 2 September 2021

Photo by Nashua Volquez-Young on Pexels.com

It happens more often than I care to admit–the inability to come up with a particular word while engaged in conversation. In my mind, I can see the shape of the word lurking in the shadows of my brain.  Try as I might to shine a mental flashlight on the word, the word will continue to evade me in a cavernous pit of forgetfulness only to materialize a few hours, or even days, after the conversation has ended.

I have witnessed dementia grip one grandparent’s aging mind and Alzheimer’s disease affect another.  Then again, how many other people can say the same thing?  Therefore, why do I worry, when my brain stutters, sputters, and struggles with a word, misplacing an item, or wondering why I walked into a room?  Answer: because I do not want to be a burden to others.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

That said, I dearly loved my Mamaw and my Papaw.  Even when they were in the throes of dementia and Alzhiemer’s respectively, I still adored them.  However, I was not responsible for their overall care and well-being.  That responsibility fell squarely upon the shoulders of my parents, their spouses, and their siblings. Instead, I was the grandchild who could visit, help-if asked–and leave as I pleased. I didn’t have to worry about the direct care and multitude of decisions that each diagnosis required–and those decisions, it seemed to me, grew in direct proportion with the disease’s progression.  

Mamaw had two children, and Papaw had three.  Even if one child was the legal guardian, they still had another sibling with whom they could confer regarding decisions, seeking help, or any of the other myriad of responsibilities that accompanies caring for a loved one with a form of dementia.  Whereas, I have one child.  One.  And in the words of Three Dog Night, “One is the loneliest number . . .”  I could cry thinking about putting that sort of responsibility upon her.  

My prayer is that dementia will not be my legacy to my daughter. Therefore, I have become somewhat obsessed with habits that could prevent dementia and Alzheimers. One quick recent search for, “preventing dementia and enhancing brain health,” and, according to Google, precisely, 1,500,000 results appeared in 0.56 seconds, many of which are considered “scholarly articles.”  Additionally, searching “habits that increase risk for dementia,” produced nearly as many results.  The point is that I am not alone in my desire to prevent and reduce risk for dementia.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for dementia, and even the currently prescribed therapies and medicines have proven to have little efficacy. This is often due to the fact that developing any of the various types of dementia is believed to be a complex cocktail of factors including age, medical history, lifestyle factors, and genes. Consequently, numerous scholarly sources point to a number of preventative measures since most cases/types of dementia are not directly inherited. 

One of the most cited statistical links and effective measures to prevent dementia is regular participation in movement and exercise. Some sources break down the amount of time devoted to cardiovascular, strength, balance, and flexibility, with 150 minutes/week being gold standard. However, all agree that it is the consistent practice of exercise/movement that matters most.

Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com

Another point of agreement is the importance of consuming a healthy diet. In fact, many researchers point to the following diets: MIND, DASH, or Mediterranean as exemplary choices for prevention.  However, there are some research quibbles with regard to best diet practices.  One debate is over how much and/or what meat should, or should not, be eaten, although most seem to agree that fatty fish, such as salmon, is a solid preventative choice.  There is also some contention regarding the use, or disuse, of dairy, but the general consentment is that if you choose to consume dairy, pick low-fat products.  Most research agrees that the consumption of healthy fats–plant oils, seeds, nuts, and avocados– are an excellent choice.  However, the amount needed is not always a point of agreement.  Nonetheless, the research clearly points to an overall consumption of a high fiber diet that heavily emphasizes a wide variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes; AND limits salt, sugar, saturated fats, and processed foods as effective and preventative practices.  

Alcohol consumption and sleep appear to have both positive and negative attributes when it comes to dementia prevention.  It appears that moderate alcohol consumption–no more than two drinks for men and one drink for women–specifically enjoyed with food, appears to be preventative.  However, drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis, seems to increase the likelihood of dementia.  Likewise, getting enough sleep, defined as 7-8 hours, on a regular basis is a preventative measure; conversely, getting too much sleep (10 or more hours), or not enough sleep (less than 6 hours), increases dementia risk. 

Photo by Max Vakhtbovych on Pexels.com

One of the more interesting bits of research centered around the practice of Kirtan Kriya (KK). It is a type of meditation, specifically 12-minutes long, that involves small hand movements, known as mudras. This ancient practice has been cited in several scientific journals as strongly linked to the prevention of dementia. In fact, several Alzheimer’s and dementia research groups offer/sponsor tutorial videos and articles on KK.

There are several other points of agreement among the scientific community for preventing and/or lowering the risk for dementia, including: 

  • Avoid, or quit, smoking
  • Stay mentally active, socially connected, and engaged in meaningful work/tasks
  • Care for mental health 
  • Manage blood pressure and/or diabetes
  • Schedule regular wellness checkups and preventative tests/screenings
  • Maintain a faith/spiritual/meditation practice(s).

While I did not discover anything ground-breaking in my recent research dive, it was clear to me that a few good habits of health go a long way.  Best of all, it’s never too late to increase a healthy habit or two.  Just as following the basic tenets of faith are important applications for spiritual well-being, implementation of basic health practices can go a long way in ensuring the vitality of life.  In the end, we may not be able to avoid dementia or other age-related illnesses, but we can make impactful choices in order to maintain a healthy, active, and balanced lifestyle for as long as possible.   

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Fudgy, Healthier Brownies (With Black Beans)

“The primary reason diseases tend to run in families may be that diets tend to run in families.”–Michael Greger, How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease

When I read the above quote, it gave me reason to pause.  Hmm.  Reflecting on the generations that I knew within my family lineage, I realized three things.  One, I came from excellent cooks on both sides of the family.  Two, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimers/dementia were clearly present on both my paternal and maternal sides of the family.  Thirdly, those same two facts could pretty much be applied to most of my husband’s, John, family heritage.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Let’s be honest, food is often the center of gatherings, events, and holidays.  While food is nourishing to the body, it is also comfort, warmth, love, and care, all wrapped up in a flavorful and aromatic quilted blanket of tradition.  Every family has their own unique variation of food traditions.  Even in families where the art or time for cooking has been lost, there are still food-centered events.  People love food, and why not?  

Unfortunately, food doesn’t always love us back–depending upon the foods we choose to eat, the portions we consume, and the beverages we down with it.  That said, I am not writing to push any one way of eating, cooking, or approach to food in general.  It is my firm belief that lifestyle and diet is an experiment of N = 1. Everyone has a unique genetic make-up, body, and life circumstances, so who am I to know what works best for each individual.  However, I do think most can agree that consuming more plant based foods is never a bad thing.

Photo by Jb Jorge Barreto on Pexels.com

One of my most treasured family recipes is my Grandmother Helen’s brownies.  It is the go-to recipe I make for special occasions, and it is most often requested by my daughter, Maddie.  In fact, I created a gluten-free variation of it, so that I, too, can enjoy this wonderful and scrumptious treat.  Thus, it was the combination of the quote above and my love for my grandmother’s brownies that led me to the research I used as motivation to cobble together this recipe variation for brownies that includes more plant based foods and uses less sugar.  

I give credit and inspiration from the following sites: chocolatecoveredkatie.com, dailydozenmealplans.com, nutritionfacts.org, busbysbakery.com, and The Jaroudi Family on Youtube.  Their recipes, combined with my own experience, gave birth to this healthier variation of my grandmother’s brownies.  Don’t get me wrong, I still plan to bake Grandmother’s Helen’s version for special occasions–there’s no replacing it; however, this recipe will do, as Grandmother Helen used to say, “in a pinch,” in order to satisfy my sweet tooth, but still sneak in the healthful benefits of a few more plants into my day.

Photo by Isabella Mendes on Pexels.com

 From my heart to yours, I appreciate you reading this and wish you much health and vitality!  I hope this will be a recipe you try! However, based upon my experience, you may not want to let your tasters know there are black beans in the brownies until AFTER they’ve eaten it!  I’d love to hear your thoughts, and be sure to share your variations with me.

Recipe below pictures ⬇️

The humble black bean can be transformed into a fiber-rich, AND delicious, sweet treat!
You can mash those black beans with your high powered mixer!
Bake them up in a pan lined with parchment paper or nonstick spray.
Then dive into the ooey-gooeyness!

Fudgy, Healthier Brownies (With Black Beans)

Ingredients:

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

2 fleggs* (can substitute with 2 eggs)

¾  cup cocoa powder

½ cup oats

½ cup applesauce (can substitute with ¼ cup vegetable oil)

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon vinegar (apple cider or white)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ cup or more chocolate chips

Optional: ½ cup chopped walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts to sprinkle on top of batter before baking OR 2-4 tablespoons of peanut or almond butter mixed into the batter before baking

Instructions:

If using flaxseed (fleggs) instead of eggs, add 2 tablespoon flaxseed to a small bowl, and add in 6 tablespoons of water.  Stir and place in the fridge for 5 minutes. 

Prepare square baking pan (8 x 8 or 9 x 9) by lining with parchment paper or spraying with nonstick cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, high speed blender, or with a quality mixer set on higher setting, mash beans. (You can also do this by hand.)

In a large bowl, mix mashed beans with the rest of the ingredients EXCEPT chocolate chips and nuts if using. 

If using almond or peanut butter, it SHOULD be mixed into the batter.

Using a spoon, gently fold in chocolate chips (and/or nuts if desired) into the batter.

Pour batter into the prepared pan.  Add more chocolate chips and/or nuts if desired on top for decorative effect.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Allow to cool 10+ minutes before serving.

Store leftovers in the fridge.  These brownies magically get better after a day in the refrigerator!

Mexican Enchilada Casserole–with Gluten-free and Plant powered options

“Life without Mexican food is no life at all.”–Unknown

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Cooking in my home is a bit of a balancing act, especially since I am the only person who has to eat gluten-free due to celiac disease.  Additionally, I have a personal preference for eating a whole food plant-based diet.  It’s taken me years to figure out what works best for my body; so, I have no judgment for those who eat differently–including my own family.  Thankfully, I am blessed with a family that will eat leftovers.  This allows me to cook up oversized, flexible meals for them designed to last them a couple of days, leaving me time to also cook my own meals separately.

I must confess, however, that there are times I feel as if I fall into a cooking rut–repeating many of the same favorite meals for my family.  While they (rarely) complain, I do get excited when I stumble upon a new idea that could potentially work in a wide variety of ways to meet the needs of the omnivore and plant-based eater alike.  The recipe I am sharing with you today is one of those versatile dishes I created that was one part inspiration and another part desperation for a new idea.

Photo by Sabel Blanco on Pexels.com

I knew there was a pound of extra-lean ground beef in the fridge, and I had just restocked all of the typical Mexican-style condiments we frequently use.  My original plan was to make taco meat for my family, a frequent go-to, which can be used not only for tacos, but also for creating nachos, salads, stackers, bowls, and the like.  However, I recalled once making something I called Mexican lasagna years ago, but the recipe was long lost. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if I could recreate a similar dish.

Research ensued, and cupboards were scoured.  Soon enough, a plan came together in my head.  I typed it all out before I began cooking; after all, if it turned out tasty, I wanted to be able to recreate it.  Plus, I figured, as I cooked, I could also easily type in adjustments to the recipe as needed.

As I cooked, the aromatic scents filled the kitchen.  The spicy fragrance was balanced and reminiscent of my younger years when I first began to learn my way around a kitchen.  Once in the oven, I let it cook, uncovered, and started checking on it around the 20 minute mark. Just as I had hoped, the sauce around the edges had started bubbling, and I could see the cheese beginning to transform into a luscious golden baked color complete with a bit of bubbling and browning.  I removed it after 25 minutes, setting it on hot pads to cool before serving.

This recipe was a home run with my husband and daughter.  They both found their own unique ways to top it.  Meanwhile, I created my own gluten free, plant-powered bowl version, and we rounded out the meal with chips and salsa.  

That said, if your family has a huge appetite, you could definitely serve up rice and/or more beans on the side.  You could even replace the black beans with corn in the casserole, and then serve black or refried beans on the side.  However you decide to vary this recipe, its ingredients are swappable and could easily be modified to suit your dietary needs or interest . . . even gluten free and/or plant-centered!  

From my home to yours, I share this recipe with you, and I am eager to hear how YOU decide to recreate it!  

Enchilada Casserole

Ingredients:

1 pound of lean ground beef (Can use plant-bant based crumbles for vegan.)

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup diced onion

1 packet reduced sodium taco seasoning

½ cup water or favorite broth (I use a low-sodium vegetable.)

1 can red enchilada sauce

1 cup salsa

1 small can of chiles

6 large flour tortillas (Can use 9-corn tortillas, instead, for a gluten free option.)

1 15-ounce can black beans, drained

3 cups of thickly shredded cheddar or Mexican blend cheese (Use non-dairy cheese or skip altogether for vegan.)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a 13 x 9 baking pan by lightly spraying it with cooking spray.

Over medium heat, in a large pan, brown ground beef, breaking it up while cooking.

Once thoroughly cooked, drain fat from meat, add in onion and garlic, cooking until onion is translucent (about another minute or two.)

Sprinkle meat with taco seasoning, stir in water or broth, allow to simmer for another minute or two.

Next, stir in enchilada sauce, salsa, and chiles into the meat mixture.

Simmer for another 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

Place the prepared baking pan on a couple of hot pads to protect the counter, pour ⅓ of the meat mixture into the pan, sprinkle ⅓ of a can of black beans over meat, followed by ⅓ of cheese, and top with two flour tortillas or 3 corn tortillas.

Layer the tortillas with another ⅓ of meat mixture, another ⅓ of beans, and another ⅓ of cheese.

Top with tortillas.

Repeat the process with remaining meat mixture, beans, and cheese.

Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the casserole is bubbling and cheese is beginning to brown.

Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving.

Top with desired toppings, such as guacamole, sour cream, chopped scallions, etc . . .

Makes 9 small servings or 6 generous servings.

Refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days.

Reheats well and makes great leftovers

Photo by Los Muertos Crew on Pexels.com

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bars

“What’s the point in having a sweet tooth if you don’t use it?”–unknown

I blame my parents.  Who else am I supposed to blame for my sweet tooth? While both of my parents eat an overall healthy diet, they also like their dessert from time to time. I confess, I am the same way.  It’s all about moderation and balance, and, well, never underestimating the power of chocolate . . . or peanut butter! 

I enjoy nearly any form of chocolate!

About a month ago, I baked my grandmother’s traditional recipe for chocolate frosted brownies.  It is a family favorite from an old 1930s or 40s vintage Betty Crocker cookbook.  While it is not vegan, I can say it is vegetarian; and anyway, I am not about so-called perfect eating.  Besides, it’s not like I bake Grandmother Helen’s brownies on a regular basis.

My mom had dinner with us on the evening that I baked brownies, so I sent a few home with her.  The next day, my daughter walked into the kitchen where I was food prepping my work lunches for the week, laughing and shaking her head.  She said that while talking to my mom on the phone, “Gran’ma confessed to spreading peanut butter all over the brownies before eating them.”

Mash up the banana first. I find a pastry cutter perfect for this!

At first, that seemed sacrilege!  How could she desecrate that beloved, treasured family recipe?  The horror of it!  What was she thinking?

“Sounds like a good idea to me!” said my husband.  “I just might try that!”

He had a point.  Peanut butter–and almond butter for that matter–are like dessert.  Nothing can improve a bad day like nut butter.  In fact, I would argue that nut butters, as a rule, have a certain calming quality to them!  During my younger years, when annoying bodily afflictions, such as acid reflux, were nearly non-existence, banana and peanut butter was one of my favorite go-to meals.  This led me to thinking . . .  which is always dangerous!

Stir in the peanut butter.
Add in the rest of the liquid ingredients.

I began to wonder if there was a plant-based, gluten-free compromise-recipe I could find or create.  Thus, my research began.  Scrolling through one web-site after another, I eventually landed on two different recipes. One recipe was from a web-site entitled, “It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken,” and the other recipe was from a web-site called, “Purely Kaylie.”  

Add in the dry ingredients.

Using both of their recipes as scaffolding to create my own variation, I did a bit more research on baking with both oat milk and oat flour.  These two ingredients, I decided, would not only increase the nutritional value, (Read between the lines–ease the guilt of my sweet tooth!) but also eliminate gluten and dairy products since I have celiac disease and prefer to eat plant-based.  Additionally, I also conducted a bit of research on the science of baking with dutched cocoa, my preferred cocoa, and I learned that it bakes more effectively with baking powder, rather than baking soda.

Stir in chocolate chip and mix until just blended.
Pour batter into prepared pan and sprinkle with remaining chocolate chips.

I made this recipe on a Saturday afternoon, and our entire home was redolent with the scent of baking chocolate.  The recipe was super-easy, requiring only one bowl, and honestly took no longer than 10 or so minutes of active kitchen time. The oven did the rest.  Once cooled, I cut the recipe into 9 generous sized squares and stored part of them in a plastic container in the fridge. I could have frozen them for future weekend cravings, but they did not last that long.

Give this recipe a try.  Enjoy it for breakfast, as a dessert, or a grab-and-go snack. It’s a mostly healthy, guilt-free way to have your cake and eat it too!  

All to cool before cutting into 9 generous squares.
Who prefers corner pieces???

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bars

Ingredients: 

2 *fleggs (2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds + 6 tablespoons water)

1 cup ripe mashed banana–about 2-3 bananas (The bananas should have brown spots.)

1/2 cup sugar or equivalent sweetener

⅓ peanut butter

¼ cup favorite milk (I used oat-milk.)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup flour (I used oat flour to keep it gluten-free, but any all-purpose flour would work.)

½ cup cocoa powder (I prefer to use Dutched Cocoa powder as it dissolves more quickly.)

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

⅔ cup chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life chocolate chips.  They are dairy and allergy-friendly.)

Directions:

Combine ground flaxseed with water in a small bowl and set in the fridge for about 15 minutes to thicken.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly coat, with nonstick cooking spray, a square 8 x 8 baking pan, or line it with parchment paper.

Mash banana in a large mixing bowl.

Mix in sugar, peanut butter, milk, vanilla extract, and flegg.

Stir in the dry ingredients–flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, & salt–but do not over mix. Gently fold in half of the chocolate chips.

Spread batter evenly as it will be fairly thick.

Sprinkle batter with remaining chocolate chips.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes, preferably longer, before attempting to cut into 9-squares.

Store in an airtight container for up to a week in the refrigerator, or freeze for up to three months.

Mix ground flaxseed and water first. Set in fridge for about 15 minutes before using for best consistency according to my research.

*Flegg= flax “egg”, which is a plant-based, allergy friendly substitute for eggs.

Made From Scratch Black Beans–The Magical Food

“Three of the most beneficial, longevity promoting, anticancer foods are green vegetables, beans, and onions.”–Joel Fuhrman  

Let’s face it, many people, myself included, lead hectic lives. Balancing the demands of our time and energy with the desires of a little bit of comfort and/or down time, while also knowing we need to set aside time for good nutrition, can feel like an impossible task, especially when it comes to our budgets.  With the costs of food, fuel, housing, and other living expenses rising, who doesn’t want to save a little money and shave a little time whenever possible?  Saving time and money, while maintaining one’s health and sanity, can seem elusive. 

Black beans pack a cost-effective nutritional punch.

Enter the humble bag of dried beans–budget friendly, healthy, and honestly, not labor intensive! With a wide variety of beans from which to choose, dried beans are quite versatile. Even if you choose canned, beans are affordable on just about any budget and can be cooked into numerous recipes.  However, with a little bit of know-how, and especially with a pressure cooker–either electric or stove top–dried beans can be super easy to fix and much more economical than their canned counterparts.

Adding salt to the soaking water, in order to create a brine-soak, is optional. Some cooks debate whether or not you should, but most experts seem to agree that salt does allow the beans to soften even more.

Black beans and soybeans are the cornerstones of longevity diets around the world.”–Dan Buettner

 Beans are often one of the most overlooked, and even undervalued, sources of protein.  Chock full of iron, antioxidants, fiber and other nutrients, beans are a nutritional powerhouse that can be eaten daily.  In fact, regular consumption of beans is often considered an important dietary consideration in many longevity studies, including the popular, “Blue Zones,” coined by author, Dan Buettner, in his National Geographic article, “The Secrets of a Long Life,” and expanded upon in his book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.  In fact, regular consumption of beans offers multiple benefits for the body.

Beans can soak up to 24 hours. The longer the soak, the softer they cook up, and the easier they are to digest.

A diet filled with regular consumption of beans and legumes can reduce LDL cholesterol by up to 5 percent!  In particular, black beans, with a whopping 15 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber per one cup serving, have a low glycemic effect.  Therefore, eating black beans may reduce spikes in blood sugar, which may also lead to a reduction of risk for diabetes.  Additionally, the high fiber and high protein count of all beans, but in particular black beans, also keeps you feeling satiated longer which could lead to weight loss, or at the very least, maintenance of a healthy weight without feeling deprived. Black beans are also an excellent source of folate, manganese, magnesium, thiamine, and iron.  Talk about a nutritional dynamo!

Rinse well after soaking beans for desired length.

“Beans are such a nice, neutral canvas, you can make a big basic pot of them and then play around with them differently every day.”–Crescent Dragonwagon 

Black beans are versatile too. They are wonderful with almost any rice variation.  Stuff beans in tortillas or taco shells, sprinkle them on salads, add them to soup or chili, spoon them over potatoes, chips, or even fries. Black beans can also be made into brownies or added to a pan with a touch of oil and/or broth, heated up, and mashed into refrieds. They can also be blended into fun dips, such as black bean hummus. The choices are nearly limitless, as black beans–also known as turtle beans– have a mild, almost sweet flavor that lends itself well to a variety of spices and condiments as well as other additions, such as avocado, oranges, peppers, onions, tomatoes, spinach, kale, chili powder, cumin, salsa, garlic cilantro, chiles, to name a few.

Draining the cooking broth from the beans after cooking is a personal choice. I typically save most of the cooking broth, and use a slotted spoon for serving.

Come on, don’t be afraid.  Cooking beans from scratch isn’t hard, time consuming, or expensive.  If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can always use a crock pot or cook low and slow on a stove for several hours–freeing your time up to do other tasks while keeping your budget in check.  

Open an inexpensive bag of beans, pour ’em into a bowl, add salt and water, then let them soak for up to 24 hours while you go about your life. When you’re ready, cook them up, and let the magic begin!

I encourage you to give this recipe a try.  If I can do it, anyone can do it!  Let me know how it goes!  I’d love to hear from you!

Leftovers can be stored in the fridge or up to a week or frozen for up to 3 months!

Ninja Foodie or Instant Pot Black Beans

Presoaking (Quick or Overnight)

1 cup dried black beans

3 cups water 

1 teaspoon kosher salt or ½ teaspoon table salt

Ninja Foodie or Instant Pot Black Beans

Adjust, eliminate, or add in spices to taste preferences.

1-2 teaspoon olive oil (optional) for those who prefer a little fat added to their beans

1-2 teaspoons minced garlic

½ cup chopped onion

1 cup soaked or dried black beans

1 dried ancho pepper or ½ teaspoon ground ancho chili powder 

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

½ sea salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons reduced sodium taco seasoning

2 cups of water

1 cup vegetable broth

Juice of 1 fresh lime (optional) 

Directions for soaking if preferred:

If using a traditional soaking method of  8-10 hours (although beans can be soaked longer–up to 24 hours–if preferred), place beans, water, and salt in a glass bowl. 

(Feel free to cover for the sake of cleanliness.)

Allow beans to soak either overnight or during the day while away at work. 

When ready to cook, drain in a colander or mesh basket and rinse well.

If using a quick soak method, place dried beans, salt, and water into a pan.

Cover and bring to a boil over medium-heat, and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature for approximately 30 minutes.

When ready to cook, drain in a colander or mesh basket and rinse well.

OR skip all of the presoak methods and simply measure out dried black beans and rinse well before using. 

Ninja Foodie or Instant pot cooking directions:

Swirl oil in the bottom of the pot if using.

Add in minced garlic and onions.

Next add in black beans.

If using a dried ancho pepper, place it on top of beans.

Sprinkle on desired spices–either following my list of ingredients, or go rogue by adding, eliminating, or adjusting the listed spices–they’re your beans after all!

Pour on water.

Fasten the pressure cooker lid and set the nozzle to seal.

Click high pressure, and set time for cooking.

IF beans have soaked, set cooking time for 5 minutes; IF beans have NOT soaked, set cooking time for 25 minutes.

Once the cooking cycle stops, allow the recipe to sit for at least 10 minutes (Do nothing with lid or seal.)

Carefully release the pressure seal, avoiding skin contact with the steam. (Trust me, it can burn!)

Once steam has fully released, carefully remove the lid, stir, and serve.

If you prefer, drain beans; however, I find that the beans store/taste/texture remains best when stored in a bit of their own broth, but it’s really personal preference.  We simply use a slotted spoon to ladle beans.

Can be stored up to one week in the refrigerator or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Makes approximately 3 cups of cooked beans.

Recipe can be doubled! 

Add your favorite vegetables, starch, and condiment(s) to your made-from-scratch beans, and you’ve got one healthy meal!

Berry Good Cauliflower-Berry Smoothie

“Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence.  All parts are interconnected.”–T. Collin Campbell

Photo by Anastasiia Petrova on Pexels.com

Summer is back!  Okay, not officially as we have not yet experienced the summer solstice, but it is strawberry season!  In fact, throughout the coming months of summer, other berries will also come into season!  Freshly picked berries are not only some of Mother Nature’s sweetest earthly treasures, but they are also some of the most nutrient rich treats.  Plus, they are just so darn versatile.  Eat ‘em plain; toss them into cereal, smoothies, or yogurt; mash them onto your toast (for real!); bake them into cake, muffin, or pie recipes; cook them down into syrup, sauces, or jams; or, can, dry, or freeze them for later use.  Honestly, what’s not to love about berries?

From a nutritional standpoint, berries are chock full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and the all important fiber. Think of berries as your personal arsenal for warding off cancer, protecting the health of your heart, and fending off chronic inflammation and/or illness. They also benefit your skin, may help lower cholesterol, and can typically be enjoyed no matter the diet you follow due to the fact they are low-glycemic and low in calories as well as carbs.  Those tiny, juicy, brightly colored orbs are bursting with nothing but love and goodwill for your body and your taste buds. 

Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

Now, contrast the vivid indigo of blueberries, the deep purple of blackberries, the candy red of strawberries, the shiny garnet of cherries and pomegranates, and the rose crimson of raspberries to the ever so homely cauliflower.  Oh sure, there are a few colorful varieties of cauliflower, but by and large, the most abundant form of cauliflower is as colorless as a canvas.  In fact, that is how I prefer to think of cauliflower: a canvas.  A canvas waiting for the strokes of color from an artist’s, or in this case, cook’s palette.

“Most flowers say, “I love you,’ but cauliflowers say, ‘I hope you live forever.’  And, that’s more intense than love.”–Unknown

Cauliflower, like the acclaimed berry, is considered a superfood.  It, too, is high in fiber, low in calories and carbohydrates, and full of vitamins and minerals.  Brimming with phytonutrients, antioxidants, and high levels of sulforaphane–an ingredient in all cruciferous vegetables–cauliflower can also wage war against cancer. Due to its high level of choline, it also supports learning and memory maintenance. (Who doesn’t need help with that?)  Additionally, cauliflower is full of bone-enhancing Vitamin K.  

Photo by Arina Krasnikova on Pexels.com

Similarly to berries, cauliflower is versatile in the kitchen.  Popularly known for creating a healthier alternative to traditional pizza crust, cauliflower can also be made into grilled “steaks,” buffalo “wings,” and stir-fried “rice.” Furthermore, it can be mashed, steamed, baked, fried, tossed into soup, salad or dip, eaten raw, its stem can be shredded and added to slaw, and it can be frozen for later use.  Plus, it can be added to smoothies! 

“If cauliflower can be pizza, you, my friend, can be anything.”–Unknown

Two simple ingredients make this smoothie naturally sweet, creamy, and a rock-solid nutritional choice to start your day of with the first positive step of the week.

If you are familiar with my work, you know I love whole-food, plant-based smoothies.  They are convenient, portable powerhouses of nutrition that can be made ahead of time and frozen.  That’s right! Blend a whole batch of smoothies up for the week in one manageably messy hour or less, and you are setting yourself up for a nutritionally robust, go-get ‘em week!  Then, the night before–or really, just a few hours ahead of time–take one smoothie out of the freezer, and set it in the fridge. Then, in the morning, you’re ready to kick off your dynamo day with a jolt of nutritional righteousness. 

Now that the weather is warming up, nothing tastes more refreshing than a cool, creamy sweet smoothie.  The sweetness occurs naturally from the succulent berries–no added sugars here.  Full of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals; low in calories and carbohydrates; this smoothie recipe checks all the boxes.  You won’t be able to taste the cauliflower, but instead, you will taste all of the berry deliciousness of whatever berry(ies) you choose.  Your taste buds and body will be doing the happy dance, and you will feel a peace of mind knowing you made one small choice of positivity that just may lead to multiple beneficial steps towards your health for the day.

From frozen to thawed in a matter of hours . . .make ahead smoothies make your work week more organized and, well, smooth!

“A healthy outside starts from the inside.”–Robert Urich

I encourage you to give this recipe a try. Change it up, dress it up, and make your own version of this wholesome blessedness.  Then, hit me up via email, Instagram, Facebook or on this website, stephsimplycom.  I can’t wait to see what you do with it!  

From my home to yours, I simply wish you vibrant health.  Here’s to you!

Berry Good Cauliflower Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup riced cauliflower

1-1 ¼  cup favorite liquid or other favorite liquid 

¼-½   cup pomegranate, cherry, blueberry or combination juice (You want a total of 1 ½ cup liquid.)

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Dash of salt (optional)

1 inch or ½ teaspoon ginger

1 mini cucumber or ½ large

½ lime, peel removed, but leave parts of the pithe for extra flavor and Vitamin C

1 cup mixed berries (My blender can only handle 1 cup, but feel free to add in another cup!)

Optional: 1 medjool date or ½ banana for added sweetness if desired 

Go “Extra,”only if you want, with as many of these additional nutritious powerhouses as desired:

Replace ¼ cup of your favorite liquid with ¼ cup aloe

2 teaspoons amla

2 teaspoon greens powder

1-2 teaspoons acai powder

½ – 1 teaspoon matcha powder

½ -1 whole scoop of favorite protein powder 

¼-½ teaspoon of turmeric powder

Place cauliflower and all liquid ingredients into the blender and blend well.

Add-in rest of the ingredients in the order listed above.

Blend all ingredients until smooth.

Makes one large (approx 32 ounces) or two smaller (approx 16 ounce) smoothies, depending upon amounts chosen.