Brownie in a mug (1 serving)

Like many people, I have a note-saving app on my phone. The things I save there tend to fall into one of two categories: Items I plan to refer to again eventually (a collection of must-see places in Scotland, quotations I pull out of books I read, a list of pun Halloween costumes I'll probably never make or wear) and information I might need in a hurry (the combination of my gym lock, a list of repair companies for various household items). This brownie recipe fits the latter category. If you claim you've never had a moment where all you needed in this world was an emergency brownie, then you are a liar. We've all been there at some point.

I've been referring to this recipe from time to time (ahem) for several years now, and I don't even remember where I found it originally. It's quick and convenient and produces a brownie that's crumblier and less fudgy than what I'd cut out of a pan of traditional brownies, but in a pinch, it's better than decent. It's dense and warm with a rich chocolate flavor that can be enhanced with any number of add-ins, from dried cherries to peanut butter. The only thing healthy about the recipe is that the single serving size keeps me from eating half a pan of brownies on my own. And that counts for something, right?

Click here for a printable recipe.    

You will need:   

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 4 Tbsp flour
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbsp chocolate chips

Steps:

  1. Melt butter in mug.
  2. Stir sugar and vanilla into butter.
  3. Add salt and yolk.
  4. Add flour and cocoa powder and mix.
  5. Stir in chips.
  6. Microwave for 45 seconds on high. Enjoy your piping hot brownie!

Again, this brownie isn't as satisfying as your grandma's, but it's WAY better than the "omg these low-fat microwave brownies are ahhh-mazing and they're made with only unsweetened applesauce, mashed organic black beans, and unbridled despair!" recipes that are all over Pinterest. I promise.

Salted peanut butter cookies

If you test out enough recipes from the same blog, cookbook, or chef, you'll start to pick up on patterns from that particular source. For example -- according to my taste anyway -- Rachael Ray's pasta-to-sauce-and-veggies ratio is way off. Jack Bishop's salads always call for the ideal amount of dressing. And Deb Perelman's recipes are guaranteed to be delicious with precisely-measured ingredients and perfect seasoning. I'm not sure there's another food blogger whose recipes I trust so automatically.

So when I saw these caramel-hued, salt-flecked beauties reposted on Smitten Kitchen's Facebook page a few days ago, I knew I had to have them. I made no changes to the original recipe, and, as always, they turned out better than I could have imagined. I don't think I'll ever need another peanut butter cookie recipe after trying out this one.

You will need:

  • 1 3/4 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups smooth peanut butter (A standard 16-ish ounce jar contains almost exactly 1 3/4 cups, so just use the whole jar)
  • coarse sea salt

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350• F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs until the batter is smooth. Add in the vanilla extract and the peanut butter and whisk until the batter is smooth and consistently-colored. (I eventually had to switch to a wooden spoon because the whisk was getting overloaded with peanut butter.)
  3. Use a cookie scoop to measure out the batter into even domes, placing them on the cookie sheet about two inches apart. Sprinkle each ball lightly with coarse sea salt.
  4. Bake cookies 14-15 minutes for smaller cookies and 18-20 for larger ones. (My cookie scoop holds about a tablespoon and a half, and my cookies needed 18 minutes in the oven.) They're done when your kitchen is redolent with the heavenly smell of peanut butter and the edges of the cookies turn golden brown.
  5. Remove the sheet from the oven and allow to cool for 3-4 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Try to convince your husband to wait until they're cool enough to eat safely.

I loved how these held their shape in the oven. Deb says you can briefly chill the dough to produce a more visually-appealing texture, but I was too impatient to wait, and I was thrilled with how they turned out anyway. The outside of the cookie is crisp, but then inside is soft without being gooey or crumbly. This recipe is plenty sweet but not at all cloying. They're perfect!

Vegan raspberry crumble bars

I don't think of myself as a particularly wise person. In general, I have more questions than I have answers, which I think is a perfectly acceptable way to live. (How boring would life be if we had all the answers already?) However, there are two things I'm totally sure about. First, life is all about collecting opportunities -- trying new things, taking risks, learning from each other, and making mistakes. Second, almost any dish can be enhanced by a sprinkling of buttery crumbs on top. Life is just sweeter with crumbs.

Love & Lemons' raspberry crumble bars are no exception. Coconut oil, walnuts, and sugar make rich, soft-yet-crunchy clusters that cover a gooey, glossy raspberry layer.

You will need:

  • 4 Tbsp coconut oil, hardened in the fridge
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup brown or coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup raspberry jam (preferably juice-sweetened)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a small baking dish with parchment paper or spray it with non-stick spray.
  2. Use a food processor to blend the coconut oil, flour, walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and salt until the mixture is the consistency of wet sand. (Add a tiny bit of water if you need to make it hold together better.)
  3. Press 3/4 of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the bottom crust for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges are just barely golden brown. (It took longer for me than the original recipe said.) Remove from the pan and allow it to cool for a few minutes.
  4. Once the bottom crust has cooled, spread the raspberry jam on top.
  5. Add a little water to the remaining crumb mix until it holds well enough to form clusters. Sprinkle the crumb clusters on top of the jam and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the top crumbs are golden brown. Remove from oven.
  6. Allow the pan to cool most of the way on the counter, and then put the pan in the fridge to cool completely. These bars are much easier to slice and remove from the pan when they're chilled!

Between the walnuts and the coconut oil, these bars are certainly not low-fat. However, they do have the potential to be fairly healthy, depending on what type of flour and sugar you use. In fact, I think that next time I make them, I might cut down on the sugar, as they were pretty darn sweet!

Chocolate-marbled banana bread

Oh. Hello there.

Certain words, when incorporated into food descriptions, make any dish immediately sound  appetizing. Stuffed. Toasted. Encrusted. Another favorite is marbled. "Chocolate-marbled banana bread" sounds a gazillion times more drool-worthy than just "chocolate banana bread." Of course, adding chocolate enhances the bread, too!

This is a great weekend recipe, and by that I mean it's a great one to bake when you've got a little extra time on your hands and don't mind dirtying a few dishes (or every single bowl in the kitchen, if you bake the way I do.) It's chewy, sweet (although not overly so), and comforting, and the marbled look gives it that little extra something special. Oh, and it's vegan! (Thanks, PPK!)

You will need:

  • 1 cup mashed very-ripe bananas (1-2 bananas, depending on size)
  • 3/4 cup sugar (coconut sugar works well, if you're into that sort of thing)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1/3 cup almond or soy milk
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • a handful of vegan chocolate chips (optional)
  • 6 Tbsp boiling water, divided

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F and prep a loaf pan with non-stick spray or a little oil. Set aside.
  2. Using a fork, mash the bananas in a large bowl until they're pretty smooth. (I'd echo Isa's advice and say it's worthwhile to measure out a cup afterwards to make sure you have the right amount.) Add the sugar, vanilla, oil, and milk to the same bowl; mix with a wooden spoon until everything is incorporated.
  3. Next, add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt to the same bowl, and mix gently only until everything is just incorporated. (I think I over-mixed here, as my loaf didn't look as fluffy as Isa's version! It still tastes amazing though, so don't worry too much.)
  4. Measure out one cup of this batter and move it to a different bowl. Keep this to the side for now. (This will become the chocolate part.)
  5. Use a mug and a fork to stir 3 Tbsp of the boiling water into the cocoa powder until it's dissolved. Pour the cocoa mixture into the one cup of banana batter, tossing in a handful of chocolate chips if desired. (Um, yes.) Mix the chocolatiness (yes, it's a word) into the one cup of batter until it's smooth and beautifully brown.
  6. Add the remaining 3 Tbsp of boiling water to the original (plain) banana batter; mix until it's relatively smooth.
  7. Scoop alternating 1/2 cups of the plain banana batter and the chocolate-banana batter into the greased loaf ban. Don't worry about it looking pretty just yet! After all the batter is in the pan, swirl a butter knife in a random pattern through the pan, creating a marbled effect.
  8. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool before slicing and serving.

And that's it! It's not a difficult recipe, but it does involve quite a few steps. As I said, my loaf came out more dense than Isa's, judging by her picture, and I think that's down to slightly over-mixing and maybe using a bigger pan than she used. But nonetheless, it turned out delicious, and Bryan and I have each had at least two pieces per day so far! (P.S. How amazing would this be with peanut butter chips mixed into the chocolate batter?)

***Update (8/8/14):

I made this a second time and added 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder, which made a more classic, top-rounded loaf. I also discovered this recipe makes enough batter for three mini loaves -- perfect for thank-you gifts or just-because-I-freaking-felt-like-it presents. The second time around, I used Trader Joe's gluten-free baking mix instead of all-purpose flour, since I'm planning to give one of these to a friend who's nice enough to take our butts back and forth to the airport later in the week. (Can't wait to be back in PA for a couple days! Boehringer's is tops on my list of food priorities!)

Vegan chocolate chip cookies cookie bars

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I was so, so excited when I found this recipe at the Vegetarian Times website. I love the combination of walnuts and chocolate, and I was intrigued by the use of oat flour instead of plain old all-purpose flour. The note on the recipe promised "a moist, chewy, vegan cookie," and the user comments raved about the taste, claiming they were indistinguishable from traditional chocolate chip cookies.

I don't know if my walnut-to-oil proportion was off or if I mismeasured or what, but my dough turned out crumbly, and my first tray of cookies fell apart. I improvised and spread the remaining dough in a glass baking dish and baked it for about 20 minutes, and -- voila! -- I had cookie bars instead. I've posted the cookie directions here, but if all else fails, just do what I did and bake them in a dish until they look done. It's easy.

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups + 2 cups rolled oats
  • 3-4 Tbsp canola oil (the original recipe calls for 3 but I'd use 4 next time to help the batter stick together better)
  • 2 cups walnut halves
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon (opt.)
  • 12 oz vegan chocolate chips

Steps:

  1. Place 1 1/2 cups of rolled oats in the bowl of a food processor. Process the oats until they turn into a coarse powder. Set this aside in a medium bowl. (You've just made your own oat flour! It's hard to find in the store, and it's expensive anyway, so why not make your own?)
  2. Now use the food processor to grind the walnuts into a fine meal, which should take under a minute. Add the canola oil and blend for 2-3 minutes, or until it looks like natural peanut butter. (I realize now that mine was too crumbly.) Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Heat 1/2 cup water in a microwave-safe bowl; add in the brown sugar and stir until it's dissolved into the water. Pour the brown sugar mixture over the walnut butter, add the vanilla extract, and stir the mixture until no lumps remain.
  4. Add the baking soda, salt, and cinnamon (if using) to the bowl with the oat flour. Whisk ingredients together. Stir this mixture into the walnut mixture until combined. Fold in the oats.
  5. Chill the cookie dough in the fridge for 20-30 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 F.
  6. Fold the chocolate chips into the chilled dough. Shape the dough into 2-inch balls and place them on a tray lined with parchment or a Silpat. Flatten the cookies with the bottom of a glass dipped in water.
  7. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the cookies begin to dry and the tops look brown. Cool them on the baking sheet for 3 minutes until transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Even though I messed up the shape of these confections, they still tasted delicious. However, I disagree with the VT commenters who said they were just like a traditional chocolate chip cookie, since this dough is much more dense than a butter-based cookie. They're still glorious though -- trust me. They're much more filling than a traditional cookie, which might actually work out in favor of portion control! Believe it or not, I might use less chocolate next time, as the chips seemed to crowd out the other tasty components.

As far as I can tell, Whole Foods' house brand of dark chocolate chunks (ugh, can't find a link) is vegan. If you read the ingredient list carefully, you might not have to hunt for something specifically marked "vegan." You just want to avoid milk ingredients (so go for a darker chocolate instead of milk chocolate) and the insect-derived glue that keeps the chips from melting. Of course, if you're baking vegan just to help your cholesterol, you can probably get away with using regular chocolate chips.

I know this recipe has a lot of steps, but it really wasn't too difficult. The toughest part was just getting the dough to stick together!