Fudgy Black Bean Brownies with Sea Salt

I love these fudgy, black bean brownies, which I originally found here on Minimalist Baker, for many reasons. For one, all you do is blam a few ingredients in the food processor, spoon the batter into a mini muffin tin and bake (now that’s my kind of baking recipe). For another, the whole baking-brownies-in-a-mini-muffin pan thing is genius–no breakage, no muss, no fuss, and they’re cute to boot. And yet another, they’re made with black beans in lieu of flour. There’s all kinds of fiber and goodness in this gluten-free brownie recipe, and yet all you’re going to hear on the receiving end is “man, these are AWESOME.” 


Celebrate Labor Day with Our Make-Ahead Menu!

Fall may not begin until Sept. 22, but Labor Day, which falls on Monday, marks the official end of summer. Heck, lots of kids have already begun their school year, and the rest will head back to the classroom on Tuesday. Celebrate the end of the season with our easy Labor Day Menu. It boasts lots of fresh, end-of-season flavor, and it’s good for you too.


To sip: Watermelon-Basil Agua Fresca
Nothing says “summer” like watermelon, which is the base for this not-too-sweet Mexican refresher. Add a splash of tequila for the adults–we won’t tell!
Make-ahead tip: Cube the watermelon up to a day in advance, but wait until just before the guests arrive to blend it with the rest of the ingredients so the flavors stay nice and bright.

To snack: Guatemalan Guacamole
Our guacamole, which pairs buttery avocados with red onion, crunchy jicama and hot chiles, is the perfect match for the agua fresca. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips.
Make-ahead tip: Chop the egg, onion, chiles and oregano a day ahead, and then combine with the rest of the ingredients when you’re ready to serve.

To start: BLT Bread Salad with Creamy Buttermilk Dressing
This salad combines the elements of the classic BLT sandwich with a luscious dressing.
Make-ahead tip: Combine the dressing ingredients and refrigerate; toast bread.

The main attraction: Buffalo Blue Burgers with Celery Slaw
Grass-fed ground buffalo is a lean, eco-friendly alternative to beef. Paired with creamy blue cheese sauce and a crunchy celery slaw, these burgers will be a crowd-pleaser.
Make-ahead tip: A day ahead, form the patties and refrigerate. Prep the hot sauce, blue cheese sauce and slaw; chill.

On the side: Corn and Quinoa Pasta Salad
This riff on traditional American picnic fare is a whole-grain bonanza, thanks to the quinoa, whole-grain pasta and fresh corn.
Make-ahead tip: Cook the quinoa and pasta the day before; combine with the remaining  ingredients on party day.

Don’t forget dessert: No-Bake Peanut Butter Popcorn Treats and Mexican Chocolate Brownies
Hey, it’s a celebration, so serve two desserts! The popcorn treats are a crunchy, salty-sweet indulgence. The brownies have the complex flavors of Mexican chocolate (cinnamon, a touch of chile).
Make-ahead tip: Prepare both up to 2 days ahead and store in airtight containers. But we’re not responsible if they “disappear” before the party!

Remembering Home Cooking Lessons on Father’s Day

By Alison Ashton

You always hear people saying they learned to cook from their mamas or grandmas. With Father’s Day coming up, I’m reminded that it was my dad who suggested I get acquainted with the kitchen with some home cooking lessons.

fathers-day“Don’t you think Alison should learn to cook something?” he asked my mom one day when I was 11.

“Why on Earth would she want to do that?” Mom asked. She was a reluctant cook herself, and the women’s movement was in full bloom at the time, so she figured if I wasn’t interested, why bother? After all, Dad wasn’t exactly nudging my brother toward the stove.

Until then, my culinary participation was limited to doing homework at the kitchen counter while Mom cooked dinner or, when she (rarely) made chocolate-chip cookies, licking the beaters. (Those were the days, before salmonella scares, when raw cookie dough was meant to be relished, not feared.)

Dad didn’t take the bait on Mom’s gender politics, so he and I embarked on a series of home cooking lessons. One of our first ventures was making brownies. We used a box mix, which is a big cheat of course, but they tasted good and offered guaranteed success. Before long, though, my tween passive-aggressive sulkiness and lack of enthusiasm took the wind out of Dad’s culinary determination and he tasked me instead with “character-building” chores, like scrubbing our redwood hot tub (above, with Dad soaking happily) with steel wool under a blazing summer sun (if only I’d stuck with learning how to cook a pot roast).

I continued to avoid the kitchen throughout my early adulthood, living on restaurant meals, takeout and convenience food. But after awhile, eating out became a chore in itself–deciding where to go, parking, the time. So I started following a recipe here and there with edible–even good–results. To my surprise, I discovered I enjoyed cooking; it was a relaxing way to end the day.

As I learned more, I worked my way into food editing and writing, where I enjoyed sharing my newfound knowledge with others. I even went to culinary school last year to fill in the lingering gaps. I learned plenty of fancy stuff—how to make crystal-clear consommé and a chicken galantine–but, truth be told, I was happiest mastering some basic skills that I likely would have picked up if I’d just stuck it out in the kitchen with Dad.

He didn’t live to witness this transformation, though I imagine he’d greet this news with a satisfied smirk and say, “Honey, if you weren’t so stubborn I would have shown you that for free.”

Well, Dad, better late than never.

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A longtime editor, writer, and recipe developer, Alison Ashton is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and the Editorial Director for NOURISH Evolution. She has worked as a features editor for a national wire service and as senior food editor for a top food magazine. Her work has appeared in Cooking Light, Vegetarian Times, and Natural Health.