Black Bean Brownies, Welcome to My World!

Black Bean Brownies

Black Bean Brownies

I’ve officially been living life in a bubble, one that hasn’t included black beans. What on earth was I thinking? They rock! I’m actually a little ashamed that I’ve been avoiding them for so many years (read: my entire life), but also excited about the possibilities.

For starters, black beans are incredibly healthy (hello protein and fiber). They also taste delicious, are quick and easy to prepare, and can be used in everything from rice to soup to salads to even desserts!

Yes, you read that right. Black beans are great in sweet desserts.

I discovered beans on my recent trip to Costa Rica where I ate them everyday, usually with rice, a protein (chicken or fish, or eggs if breakfast), and a vegetable. And they were delicious, not to mention filling and nutritious.

Black bean brownies: eggs and beans in blender Black bean brownies: puree everything

Now that my eyes and stomach are open to black beans I’ve begun to notice them more in everyday life back at home. For example, the other day I heard someone talk about black bean brownies made from a brownie mix, simply substitute a can of black beans for the eggs and oil and bake according to package instructions.

This idea piqued my interest, but I wanted to take it a step further and make the brownies completely from scratch, no box mix needed. This recipe turns the idea around a bit, using the black beans in place of flour and liquids and pureeing them in a blender with eggs, flavorings and sugar.

Bake black bean brownies Cool black bean brownies

These were decadent, relatively healthy and gluten and dairy-free, although I have to note that they’re not for everybody. The flavor is rich with a fudgy texture and you can’t taste the black beans at all, but your waistline will sure be able to tell the difference.

Here’s the recipe:

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La Pura Vida!

[flickrvideo]http://www.flickr.com/photos/foodiereflections/3523008460/[/flickrvideo]

I’m back home but still not quite settled in after a wonderful eight day vacation in Costa Rica. And I know I should be tackling the “fun” chores of unpacking and doing laundry (and getting actual work done), but I’d rather rehash the rest of this fabulous trip.

White Water Rafting on the Rio Toro

Yes, I know I promised to update my blog more from the road but I never had reliable Internet after that first post. Oh well, pura vida, as they say in CR.

Monteverde

The next stop after Arenal was Monteverde and the cloud forest. Here we stayed at Fonda Vela which reminded me of summer camp with cabin-like common areas and dirt paths. The best way to describe the area was “green and brown” – it was very lush from all the rain (it is the rain forest after all) but also brown from all the unpaved roads.

Monteverde Clouds

And I got to know one of those roads very well through a steep hike to the park entrance that was meant to be a leisurely jaunt; the hotel “claims” it’s a quick walk to the park, but 45 minutes later and a major glute workout told me otherwise.

Monteverde Sign

So now you’re probably thinking we got to the entrance, paid the fee, and hiked the trails for a bit. Sorry, but no. We took a picture in front of the sign and headed back the way we came. Good thing, too, as we made it to the hotel just before it started to pour.

Dinner that night was… wait for it… a granola bar! Yes, we were utterly pathetic and didn’t want to go out in the rain so we ate granola bars and watched Bridget Jone’s Diary on TV.

Luckily I was well-rested for the next morning and the canopy tour, which was actually pretty tame once you got the hang of it. The best part was the Tarzan swing where you literally jump (or in my case get a strong nudge) from a platform a few stories in the air. It’s totally safe – I was harnessed in to the point where it nearly hurt – but still thrilling! See the video at the top of the post, it’s of me on the Tarzan swing. And note how my screams change from ones of complete terror to excitement.

Jackie on a zip line

That afternoon we drove to Manuel Antonio where we stayed at Arenas del Mar for three nights, a beautiful and hilly hotel with pools, a private beach, golf carts, monkeys, sloths and iguanas. This was by far the most tropical of the destinations with incredibly hot, humid, thick air, strong sun and no breeze whatsoever.

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My only complaint about this hotel was the food, which was acceptably priced but always a little dry or salty. None of my food was horrible, and in fact I was inspired by the zucchini rolls with macadamia nut and pineapple pate, but still not amazing.

Zucchini Rolls, Arenas del Mar

The following morning began with another hike, this one about one and a half miles along the beach to the national park entrance. But this time we actually went in the park and walked around for a few hours, ending at Playa Tres where we encountered scores of monkeys. These were actually pretty cute, although I had my fill after 10 minutes or so when I became intrigued by a crab wandering along the sand. So much so that I completely missed the deer that suddenly appeared next to my friend, Lori.

Deer on the beach in Manuel Antonio

Iguana in Manuel Antonio Halloween Crab in Arenas del Mar

Monkey in Manuel Antonio

Getting out of the park turned into a bit of an adventure: we decided to leave at the exit near the beaches, but it turned out that area was completely flooded. Luckily, there was a nice man in a row boat who offered to take us across the “pond” (I think he was hired or recruited from the park to ferry visitors). It was nice until halfway across the man tells us the water is infested with crocodiles. Not sure if he was joking or not, but I was happy to touch land again and didn’t even mind the hike back to the hotel.

Arenas del Mar Beach

The next morning was the jet ski tour in the salty ocean, although I have to mention that the water was really warm. And, damn, those machines can really move! I got up to 48 mph which may not seem like a lot but I felt like I was soaring. And I think at some points I was as one of the people in our group told me “I got some nice air.” I also got a little sun burnt thanks to the sun which was stronger than the SPF 70 sunscreen I’d been applying religiously.

Jet Skiing in Manuel Antonio

Friday, our final morning in Manuel Antonio, was spent at Villa Vanilla for a spice plantation tour. This was an interesting foodie experience, perfect for someone like me. I learned how vanilla and cocoa grow and are harvested, and got to taste a ripe green peppercorn (what all pepper comes from), among other herbs and spices.

Cinnamon bark Cocoa pods

Dried vanilla beans White and black peppercorns

Vanilla beans on the vine Green peppercorns

That afternoon we were off to San Jose in preparation of our Saturday departure. This was the only time we experienced traffic and there was a lot of it. It took nearly five hours to reach San Jose, two more than expected. But we did stop in the middle for lunch at a traditional Costa Rican “soda” for casado, something no trip to the country would be complete without.

Chicken casado from soda Traditional Soda

Saturday morning we got up early and walked from the hotel, Grano de Oro, to the central market. I didn’t buy anything there but I so badly wanted to. There were bins of brightly colored spices along with raw and prepared meats, fruits and vegetables. It was an interesting sight.

Spices at San Jose market

Produce stand in San Jose

I did stop for a snack on the way back to the hotel. It was some type of ground meat (I’ve decided not to worry about what type) and potatoes inside a corn tortilla. Not overly filling but still tasty. Luckily there was time for breakfast at the hotel before heading to the airport so I filled up on pancakes with pineapple and papaya.

Corn tortilla with potatoes and ground meat Fruit Pancakes

I don’t travel as much as I’d like and therefore don’t like to go to the same place twice, but in this case I’ll make an exception. I’d LOVE to go back to Costa Rica. It’s a beautiful country with welcoming citizens, not to mention activities and food galore. A must-visit in my book.

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Holy Pineapple! I’m in Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano, taken from room balcony

Arenal Volcano, taken from room balcony

Today my food blog is going to take a small turn to a travelog. I promise to mention food and include unedited photos, but this post is really for all the readers who wanted updates from my trip. And luckily the hotel I’m in now has free Internet, so no promises about more posts.

Today is my last morning in Arenal. I should mention that I’m traveling with my friend Lori. Anyways, we’re leaving for Monteverde and the Cloud Forest soon and I really want to eat breakfast before I have to pack so, this may be a bit short.

View I woke up to this morning!

View I woke up to this morning!

Arenal has been amazing, especially the hotel Arenal Nayara. I wish I could stay here longer. The area and the hotel are just so beautiful. My first reaction to the hotel was “holy shit, wow,” followed by  “this is too nice but me.” The rooms are really little cabins that wrap around the property, 25 in total. Ours looks out to the volcano and has the most amazing view. It has a balcony with a jacuzzi (I didn’t use it) and an outdoor shower (which I did use, I mean when will I ever get to use a private outdoor shower again?) in addition to a normal one. So cool. And it’s all so new.

The cabins are surrounded by lush landscaping with tons of plants and flowers. So gorgeous! Except that the damn birds woke me up. I don’t care for birds. Oh, and there are bunnies everywhere. They’re actually kind of cute. Yeah, yeah, cute bunnies… moving on.

Hotel bunny

Hotel bunny

We’ve done a lot since getting here Saturday afternoon: hung out in the hotel’s heated pool, took a bus to the “other  side” of the volcano at night to see the lava flow, enjoyed some good meals, and took a white water rafting trip down the Rio Toro! That was the highlight so far – the rush of adreneline, the cold of the rapids washing over, the cows and monkeys and poisonous frogs, the guy in charge named Rocky. And the scenerey. And the lunch after at the boat house where we dined on a traditional Costa Rican meal of casado, mainly rice, black beans, salsa, yuca, and some type of really good stew-type dish with chicken or beef and potatoes and carrots. Yum.

Fish casado from hotel restaurant

Fish casado from hotel restaurant

The rest of the meals have been at the hotel and have been very good, although my favorite thing so far was the gaspacho which was different from versions I’ve had in Chicago, along with the fresh fruit. This pineapple is so incredibly sweet and juicy that my mouth was tingling a bit from it all day. I hope that wasn’t a sign of an allergic reaction… hmm?

Gaspacho with Avocado

Gaspacho with Avocado

After the rafting trip we decided to check out one of the “hot springs” and went to Balbo. Very disappointing. So we left and came back to the hotel and sat in the heated pool here, specifically at the pool bar.

I’m excited for the rest of the trip. As I mentioned, next up is Monteverde followed by Manuel Antonio and then finally San Jose.

Shrimp rice fragata from hotel restuarant

Shrimp rice fragata from hotel restuarant

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Recipe: Healthy Vegetable Lasagna

Uncooked lasagna

As I discussed in my last post, I spent some time earlier this week at my friend Ari’s house while she recovered from surgery. While she was napping I made myself at home in her kitchen and raided her refrigerator and pantry for ingredients for an unknown dish.

Sliced zucchini & yellow squash Baby spinach

The first thing I made was this white bean and red pepper soup. But that soup didn’t satisfy my need to create; I wanted to leave Ari and her husband with a substantial, nutritious meal and finally decided to make a low-sodium vegetable lasagna. Just like the soup, I didn’t add any sodium to the recipe, which was so difficult for me. I used canned spaghetti sauce which had sodium in it as well as salty Parmesan cheese, and put about a half teaspoon salt into the big pot of boiling water for the noodles. But that was it, I swear!

Spinach in marinara sauce Layering lasagna

Ari called me last night to tell me they ate the lasagna for dinner and loved it. She made one suggestion that it would help to thin out the ricotta cheese, which can easily be done by mixing it with a bit of the sauce. In the end, this recipe was a very healthy winner!

Lasagna baking Low-sodium vegetable lasagna

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