Banana Oat Blondies

Because there's only one (maybe two?) things to do when you see a bunch of overripe bananas on your counter: turn them into a delicious baked good! Freezing them is the second option, in case baking with them doesn't excite you. Well, I guess there is a third, most obvious option: eat them.
Banana bread seemed too mainstream. If you've been following me for a while now, you'll know that I mean this in the best of sentiments. My family and I are banana bread fanatics, and I've already made so many variations. It only seemed fair to give other treats a chance. Hence, these oat banana blondies were born. Quick confession time. These aren't your classic blondies, so don't expect them to be as such. They're more like a chewier, denser version of banana bread in blondie form. Not sure who wouldn't want that though! They're also easily made gluten free as long as you make sure to use gluten-free certified oats.

From my experience baking with oat flour, I've found it to be one of the most reliable flours - it always yields such delicious results. The texture is just right - crumbly, nutty and has a bite to it, yet is smooth, rich and oh-so-wonderfully wholesome.

These blondies are no different. They're soft, slightly chewy, filled with just the right amount of chocolate chips, moderately sweet (see recipe - sugar content can be increased if you'd like something slightly sweeter) and healthy to boot! You could even slice a large square in half and slather on some peanut or almond butter (or a cocoa hazelnut spread that's made from real ingredients - i.e. not Nutella).

1 1/2 cups baby oats, ground into a flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tbsp almond butter
1/2 tbsp coconut oil
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 + 1 tbsp cup unrefined sugar (up this to 3/4 cup in total if you're after something slightly sweeter)
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 170°C. Line a square baking dish (8 to 9 inches in side length) with parchment paper and set aside.  

Sift the dry ingredients, except sugar, together in a medium mixing bowl. Stir to combine.

In a separate, larger bowl, beat together the Greek yogurt, almond butter and coconut oil. Add the eggs one at a time and beat again until light and frothy. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and beat well again.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just combined. Fold in the mashed banana, then the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into prepared baking pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. 

Let the blondies cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy anytime with drink of choice (milk, tea, coffee.... I guess wine works too?)!


Butternut Squash & Chickpea Salad

Aaand I'm back! This term has been one-of-a-kind. It's been so super special and amazing I don't even know how to describe it. It's also been a term filled with a lot of new experiences - I pulled my first all-nighters (three in a span of seven days....), I went for a couple of runs with one of my best friends and a former cross country runner, I traveled to them Amalfi coast and indulged in some amazing Italian food (and dessert because life without dessert is just..... not ok - for me, at least!).

I'm also back on the savory kick with this colorful and wholesome butternut squash and chickpea "salad". I say salad in quotations because salads tend to get bad rep for being a small bowl-full of limp lettuce leaves topped with flavourless tomatoes and some sort of dressing, but really, that's not what salads should be or are about. They're about taking a variety of fresh, delicious ingredients and putting them together in one gorgeous dish!
This salad is a variation on one of Deliciously Ella's (a lovely health food and wellness inspiration - do check her out if you haven't already!) recipes with a few variations here and there to make it more aligned with my tastebuds. It's a nourishing and satisfying lunch or equally great as a side dish! I find it absolutely perfect in the summertime when the weather is warm, the sun is shining, the days are long, the produce is fresh and the body craves something other than a piping hot meal. Can you tell I love summer? That said, it's great all year round - in fall due to the very autumn-y flavors and earthy combination, in winter because of the warming spices and the fact that this salad can be served warm and in spring because springtime is salad time!

The butternut squash roasts up beautiful and get just the slightest bit of crusty goodness on the outside. The chickpeas are also roasted in the oven with a wonderful blend of spices - I allow them to bake just enough so they're firm, but not completely dried out and crunchy like, say, toasted nuts. Instead of using already-roasted or sun-dried tomatoes, I prefer to do it myself and take sweet cherry tomatoes and roast them in the oven until they've shriveled and are juicy, but not completely dried. The salad comes together with a handful of sharp rocket leaves and a tart, yet sweet dressing that brightens the flavours and really brings out the sweetness of the squash.

If you don't have any butternut squash on hand, feel free to use pumpkin, another similar squash or even sweet potato - all would work just fine!

Serves 1 as a main dish

For the salad:
1 cup worth of large chunks of butternut squash, peeled
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil
1/2 cup dried chickpeas
1/2 tsp chili powder
large handful of rocket leaves (or arugula or rucola - whatever you call it!)
8-10 cherry tomatoes

For the dressing:
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp honey
sprinkle of sea salt
juice of 1 lemon

Soak the dried beans the night before making the salad. If you forget to do this, soak them in boiling water for 1 hour. Cook as per instructions.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. 

Toss the squash with the herbs, paprika, olive oil and a dash of salt. Chop the cherry tomatoes in half.

Take the chunks of squash and tomato halves and place them side by side on a baking sheet. Bake for about 30-40 minutes until tomatoes are shriveled and have let out some juice and the butternut squash is tender and slightly charred on the outside.

Having placed the squash and tomato in the oven, toss the chickpeas in the chili powder and bake for around 20 minutes.

Mix the ingredients for the dressing together, adding salt and pepper as to your taste.

Once the squash, tomatoes and chickpeas are done and have cooled slightly, mix the squash, tomatoes, rocket and chickpeas. Add the dressing, toss once again and serve. Enjoy!


No-Bake Vegan "Cheesecake"

Zoodles or courgetti (which one do you call it?) just don't cut it for me. If I'm craving pasta, my body's asking for a hearty helping of some downright carbs. Spiralized zucchini just isn't going to magically turn into that. Sorry to all you devoted fans out there. There's nothing wrong with zoodles, but they're just not pasta. At least not to me!
Why am I randomly blabbering about pasta, you ask? Well because I like to keep it real. Just like with these "cheesecakes". There's no doubt these are a fantastic afternoon snack or post-dinner dessert you can eat on the daily, but they're not cheesecake and I won't pretend they are. If you're interested in this recipe, I'm guessing you most probably know this already, but thought I'd warn you just in case.

What they are is a lightly sweet, raw-treat that's smooth and dreamy and definitely reminiscent of a cheesecake type of dessert. But not cheesecake. They're easily customizable, conveniently-sized and downright delicious. I went with three flavors - plain, raspberry and peanut butter, but I can only imagine that flavors like chocolate, lime, blueberry, strawberry and coconut would be equally delicious.   

The "crust" is the classic health-food-trend base of dates and nuts (walnuts were my choice) and the filling is one made from blended cashews, coconut oil and lots of other feel-good goodness. The blended cashews as a filling is definitely not something new - I always thought of trying it but never really got around to it. Better late than never, hey? I was so pleasantly surprised! The filling is so luscious, creamy and aromatic right when it's blended that it'll take a lot of self-control to stop yourself from literally spooning the mixture right out of the blender jar straight into your mouth (I won't tell if you do this). A spoon, or few, is necessary as a taste test anyways...right? The subtle sweetness of the maple syrup perfectly complements the tangy lemon flavor (hello cheesecake). The trick to getting a nice a smooth filling is soaking your cashews for long enough. I suggest overnight, but if you forgot/hadn't planned for this, a few hours in some boiling water will do it.

If you're used to raw/healthy/nut-based/naturally-sweetened treats, you'll love this. If not, give it a go and let me know what you think. You'll never know if you don't try!

This recipe is adapted from Minimalist Baker's 7-Ingredient Vegan Cheesecakes.

Makes 10-12 standard muffin-cup sized mini cheesecakes (or one larger 9-inch cheesecake)
For the crust:
1 cup pitted gooey dates
1 cup raw walnuts (pecans or almonds can be substituted)
pinch of salt
For the filling:
1 3/4 cups raw cashews, soaked overnight or in boiling water for a few hours
juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup coconut milk, preferably the thick creamy part that forms on top
Optional add ins: peanut butter, raspberry jam

Bring out your standard muffin tin and set aside.

Add walnuts to a food processor/high speed blender and blitz into small chunks. Don't process it into a powder unless you don't want any chunks of nuts in the base  - I like the crunch so I keep it quite chunky! Pour into a bowl and set aside.

In the same machine, process the dates until a sticky paste/ball is formed. Pour walnut bits back in, along with the salt, and process again. The mixture should come together quickly and be sticky enough to roll balls, but not so sticky that it sticks to your fingers. Add more dates or walnuts to get to the right consistency. 

Cut thin strips of parchment paper and lay them in each muffin cup to make it easier to pull out the cheesecakes later (make sure about an inch sticks up on either side).

Take small amounts of the crust mixture and press it into each muffin cup. There's no exact science here - mine ended up being between a half and one centimeter thick. Just use your fingers to gently press down. Place in the freezer to set while you prepare the filling.

Blend all the filling ingredients together until a very smooth, silky, almost velvety mixture is formed.

Take the crusts out of the freezer and pour spoonfuls of the filling onto each crust. If using optional flavorings, swirl small spoonfuls of your chosen add-in into the filling.

Place in the freezer to set completely. To serve, either eat them straight from the freezer (cold is always my chosen preference) or remove 5 minutes before serving for a softer, more cheesecake like texture.



Mocha Oat Cookies

Cookies always seem to do the trick. At breakfast, mid-morning, post-lunch, at tea time, after dinner or when the midnight munchies hit, cookies seem to come to the rescue.
Sorry quick tangent. As I'm typing this blog post, I'm noshing on a perfectly ripe banana sliced up and topped with melted peanut butter and dark chocolate spread. Not sure why I haven't tried this before - such a great snack! Highly recommended. Also just realized that this could mistakenly come across as I haven't had bananas with pb or chocolate before. Definitely not true. I'm pretty sure I eat all three on a daily basis and bananas and pb often feature together.

Back to the cookie loving. Or should I be hating? The fact that they're so easy to make and eat is pretty dangerous... But at least when they're filled with good things like oats, dark chocolate (healthy in moderation) and coffee (likewise), you can feel good about eating them, right? Please say yes.
The coffee flavor isn't overpowering. It's almost as though - yes this is going to sound weird and manipulative, but just trust me here - you can taste the coffee undertones if you want to, but if not, all the coffee does is intensify the flavor of the chocolate. And who doesn't want that? Give me all the chocolate.

The texture of the cookies can't be beat. They're wonderfully crunchy and perfectly gooey right around the puddles of melty chocolate chips. You'll wonder where the lovely crunch comes from only to remember that the secret lies in using oat flour to make these cookies. Don't worry if your oat flour isn't perfectly ground into a fine powder. There's almost a beauty to the tiny specks of oat bits peppered through these chocolate-y cookies. They bake up just perfectly - slightly sticky/crispy on the outside and chewy and gooey on the inside. They're almost like a brookie (fudgy brownie cookie!).

Makes 15 large cookies
2 1/4 cup rolled oats, ground into a flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup unrefined sugar
3 tsp instant coffee
2 eggs
4 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 175 C and line a large cookie baking tray with baking paper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the oat flour, salt, baking powder, cocoa, sugar and instant coffee.

In a separate small bowl or cup, briefly mix together the the coconut oil and eggs. They probably wont mix that well, but don't worry as all you need to make sure to do is break the yolks to make for more even mixing later.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet. Mix until just combined.

Gently fold in the dark chocolate chips.

Use your hands to roll the dough into 15 evenly sized balls. They won't be perfect as the dough is likely to be slightly sticky, but this is intended so keep going!

Place the balls on the prepared cookie sheet. Press down slightly for a flatter cookie (I did this) or leave as is for chunkier/thicker cookies. Leave some space between the cookies because they do tend to spread.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until just firm to the touch. Cool in tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Don't wait - just eat. And enjoy!