Dating Jazz, Sweets

Date Night In + Recipe for Black Bean Brownies

We just finished a late dinner and hurried to get Willow off to bed.  Tooth brushing and story time minutes later, we only have  1 1/2 hours for our date night before we need to go to bed and we still need to do the dishes.  I run to the grocery store across the street to grab a pint of vanilla Haagen Das while Jazz (as usual) loads the dish washer and sweeps the floor.

It’s hard to justify squeezing in a “date” when you have so little time and energy, but when you have a child you kind of have to reimagine your whole life.  It doesn’t function the same way it used to.  You have to get creative and you have to be specific about how you spend your time.  If by the end of dishes all we have is 45 minutes, we’ll make due.

When Jazz and I did our pre-engagement counseling,  our counselor told us that you only need 15 minutes a day to have a successful relationship.  Now, by counseling I don’t mean a handful of sessions before the big day.  Before we were even engaged we spent a YEAR in counseling together.  I highly recommend it.  In our counseling sessions we learned how to communicate with one other.  We learned how to share our feelings in a way that was nonjudgemental, honest and open.  She recommended we practice this “checking in” with each other at least once a day.  So 45 minutes, that’s plenty of time to spend some meaningful, intentional time with your partner.

Dating Night In and Refined Sugar Free Black Bean Brownie Recipe // Keeping Willow

On top of our coffee table — a sanded and varnished palette on wheels that Jazz made — was Hive (one of our favorite two-player games),  two bowls cradling one of the warm, black bean brownies I baked that day (recipe below) topped with a small scoop of super, vanilla-y ice cream, and a lit candle (ok, I’ll admit, the candle made it look a little like a seance). Jazz picked out the music (Grimes | Halfaxa), we devoured our brownies, and we sat and played a couple rounds of Hive, each beating each other in opposing rounds.  To top off the night, we sat in silence reading our literature of choice as we wound down before bed (Jazz is reading Cryptonmicon by Neal Stephenson and I read the winter issue of i-D Magazine).

Our date was short and sweet (much like eating our chocolate, fudgey brownies) but it was something.  It was a moment to sit and laugh together, not worrying about life’s burdens.  We set aside a space where we decided to be WITH one another rather than just exist next to one each other (there’s a difference, I promise you).

This mini date was fun and left us excited for more.  Speaking of more, Jazz went back for a second brownie.  It’s ok, because they’re made with beans and sweetened with dates instead of sugar.  I know, I know, the ice cream kind of ruined that but it’s so much better with ice cream.

Here’s the recipe so you can see for yourself!


{Just a quick aside about these brownies.  We were having some friends over for dinner.  I wanted to make something healthier for dessert and I needed to make something without sugar since some of our friends gave up sugar for lent.  I took a little inspiration from Minimalist Baker’s black bean brownie recipe, but I used navy beans and made a few changes.  They turned out really well.  I have been playing with and tweaking this recipe to make it my own ever since and have finally landed on something that I think is really great.  The avocado makes it super rich without lots of added oil. Oh, and they are really easy to make.}

Dating Night In and Refined Sugar Free Black Bean Brownie Recipe // Keeping Willow


Black Bean Brownies- Gluten and Refined Sugar Free
makes 12 brownies

1 3/4 cups (1 can) beans (black, navy or cannellini beans will suffice)
2 eggs
1/2 ripe avocado
1 T coconut or pure olive oil
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup dates (soaked in hot water)
1/4 date water*
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
chocolate chips or chopped nuts optional

1. Preheat your oven to 350° F.  Place the dates in a small bowl and cover with hot water.  Allow the dates to sit for 5-10 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
2. In a food processor or blender, combine all the ingredients beside the chocolate chips, etc.  Make sure to squeeze extra water out of the dates before adding to the bowl.  *Add a 1/4 cup of the remaining date water.  Allow to puree for several minutes, scrapping the sides of the bowl incrementally, to be sure the batter is very smooth and ingredients are well incorporated. The batter should be thicker than traditional brownie batter, kind of like frosting.  Meanwhile, with some butter or coconut oil, grease a standard size muffin pan.
3. Mix in 1/2 cup of any chocolate chips or nuts before pouring the batter into the muffin pan.  Fill the muffin pan to make 12, even brownies.  Top with extra chocolate chips or nut topping.
4. Bake brownies for about 15-17 minutes.  Much more than that and they will get a little dried out.  Take the brownies out of the muffin pan and allow to cool on a rack.  Serve warm with ice cream or a glass of milk.

Snacks, Sweets

Raw Granola Bars // Surviving February


February.  It’s almost over. You’ve almost made it.  The month from H-E-double hockey sticks, with it’s bitter cold and blanket of mute, gray clouds will be a distant memory.  Next month, the hope of Spring is on the horizon.  Although for those of us who are northerners, this hope is still pretty bleak.  But there is hope nevertheless.

Unlike most Februarys, for me, this has been a very good month.  I’ve had lots of time off, time alone with my honey and some upcoming visits from friends and family.  I have made it outside for a walk everyday and I have been dramatically cutting down my sugar intake (mostly on accident but very much in my favor).

So, how are you going to make through the next 2 days of this wretched month?

Tip #3:
Sing.  Yep, you read that right.  Not just singing under your breath or humming a song that is stuck in your head.  I am talking about full on, lung bursting, belting.  Get in your car or wait until you’re home alone, crank up the stereo to some of your favorite singable tunes, and sing your freakin’ heart out.  And hand motions are mandatory.  Journey anyone?

I’m sorry if that’s weird for you.  But it works.  If you feel sad, just try it.  Singing is like crying or yelling.  It blows off some steam and connects your body to your emotions but in a fun and constructive way.  If singing isn’t your thing, substitute with dancing.  Or just have a dance party.  Win, win.

Recipe #3:
These mouth watering little morsels (far better than any granola bar I’ve ever purchased from the store) will make you feel good because they’re so tasty but also because they are packed full of foods that will give you energy and a balanced mood. Bonus: they are ridiculously easy to make.  The easiest recipe I have every posted on this blog.

So here’s the plan.  Throw a party.  Make these bars.  Add karaoke.  Add mix of epic dance anthems. Watch season 3 of “House of Cards”.

And that’s how you end February with a bang, folks.

Lavender and Cardamom Raw Granola Bars with Dark Chocolate Drizzle // Keeping Willow

Lavender and Cardamom Raw Granola Bars with Dark Chocolate Drizzle // Keeping WillowLavender and Cardamom Raw Granola Bars with Dark Chocolate Drizzle // Keeping WillowLavender and Cardamom Raw Granola Bars with Dark Chocolate Drizzle // Keeping WillowLavender and Cardamom Raw Granola Bars with Dark Chocolate Drizzle // Keeping WillowLavender and Cardamom Raw Granola Bars with Dark Chocolate Drizzle // Keeping Willow

Lavender and Cardamom Raw Granola Bars with Dark Chocolate
Makes 24 bars

2 cups pitted dates
1 cup pumpkin seeds + a small handful to press on top
1/4 cup almonds
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup unsweetened, flaked coconut
1/2 cup hemp hearts
3 tsp dried lavender buds
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
1 bar dark chocolate, optional (70% cacao or more)

1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients except for reserved pumpkin seeds and chocolate.  Pulse until you get an even meal that will easily clump into a ball when you squeeze it in your hand.
2. Line a 9″ x 13″ pan with wax or parchment paper.  Put granola mix into pan and press firmly down into the pan to make a nice even layer.  Sprinkle reserved pumpkin seeds evenly over the top.  Press in lightly just so they stick.  Refrigerate 1 hour.
3. Once your bars are chilled, lift bars out of the pan with the paper.  Cut into desired size bars.  Break chocolate into smallish pieces and melt over a double boiler.  Drizzle melted chocolate over bars.  Sprinkle with extra lavender buds.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks (if they last that long) or the freezer for a frozen treat.

Note:  To make this raw, make sure you buy raw nuts.  If you are paleo or avoiding sugar, find some chocolate that is suitable for your diet or throw in some cocoa nibs into your granola mix.  Because lavender tastes so much better with chocolate.  You can find lavender buds at your health food store, at an herbalist or for very cheap online.


Lavender and Cardamom Raw Granola Bars with Dark Chocolate Drizzle // Keeping Willow


Vanilla Porter Chocolate Pudding


Ok you guys.  This– is what’s up.  I never liked chocolate pudding growing up.  Those little “snack packs” just didn’t do it for me.  And then I ate real chocolate pudding at Marie Catrib’s (the most marvelous little restaurant/bakeshop in Grand Rapids that will accommodate every dietary restriction under the sun) and my life changed.  Marie’s thick chocolately custard made with duck eggs, love and magic– (sigh).  I’m dead just thinking about it.  My new mantra in life: don’t eat/make any pudding unless it’s from scratch.

I don’t make pudding often, but when I get a craving for something I really like, I tend to make it several times in a row.  So I made some chocolate pudding.  It was damn good.  We just bought this incredible winter four pack from Beau’s Brewery and just happened to be drinking their Burnt Rock Vanilla Porter while eating this delectable pudding.  And then the thought occurred to me, two rights often make an even better right.  A sweet, malty porter with a vanilla aroma aroma and a chocolate finish combined with the most underrated chocolate decadence of modernity.  Come to mama!

So I did a little experimenting with the leftovers of our Porter, and the result was mind blowing.  Like the kind of mind blowing that causes you to starting laughing and/or crying when you take a bite, it’s THAT good.  So here it is.  In case I didn’t say it before, it’s so good.  I really hope you try it.

Oh, and if you ever run into Beau’s brews, you should really try one (especially the St. Luke’s Verse Lavender Gruit).



Vanilla Porter Chocolate PuddingVanilla Porter Chocolate Pudding // Keeping WillowVanilla Porter Chocolate Pudding // Keeping WillowVanilla Porter Chocolate Pudding // Keeping Willow Vanilla Porter Chocolate Pudding // Keeping WillowVanilla Porter Chocolate Pudding // Keeping Willow Vanilla Porter Chocolate Pudding // Keeping WillowVanilla Porter Chocolate Pudding // Keeping Willow

serves 6 | prep time: 20 min

1 cup vanilla porter (or any dark brew you have laying around)
2 1/2 cups whole milk, divided
1/4 cup heavy cream + 1/2 cup to whip up on top
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
5 egg yolks
2 Tbsp corn starch
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. In a medium size, non-reactive sauce pan combine the beer, 2 cups of the milk, 1/4 cup heavy cream, sugar and chocolate chips.  Bring up to just before a simmer, stirring to melt the chocolate chips (If they are not completely melted at this point, do not fret.  They will get there).
2. Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining half cup of milk, cornstarch, vanilla and egg yolks in a medium size bowl.  Very slowly, while whisking constantly, pour half the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture (this is called making a liaison, just FYI).  Then, slowly pour this liaison back into the sauce pan with the remaining milk, still whisking constantly.
3. Over medium high heat, whisk constantly until the pudding mixture comes to a boil.  Allow to cook for 3 more minutes, whisking constantly.
4. Remove from heat and pour pudding into 6 individual ramekins.  Cover in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator, allowing to cool for at least 4-6 hours.
5. Serve with slightly sweetened, fresh whipped cream.  Try not to cry.


Brown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies [Frugal Food Series | Tip 9: Treats]

Everyone likes treats.  It’s science.  Our evolutionary minds cannot fight off the temptation of something filled with fat and sugar to help us survive another day.  Because at some point in our history, when we lived off the land, this intuition is what kept us a thriving species.  Now, in our present day, where we don’t have to hunt for our food, etc, etc, it’s what is killing us.  But the real point is that treats are good.  And in my opinion, the most satisfying way to enjoy a treat, as well as the most frugal, is to make them yourself.

So as a general rule we have [that we break often] is that if we do want a treat, we have to make it from scratch.  Putting the time and energy into making a little indulgence helps us to reduce our intake of delectable morsels.  If I buy a bag of chips or a box of cookies, they just kind of disappear.  I have no connection to the pre-made, boxed food and just consume it.  When I bake something, or pop fresh popcorn, I really savor it.  But these cookies I’m about to share with you! I. Can’t. Stop. I found this recipe at Baker Bettie, searching for a sans baking soda, cookie recipe, since we lacked the aforementioned ingredient and Jazz simply HAD to have cookies and ice cream, and we both just loved them.  Listen, I’m not really a sweet tooth, but now I kind of make them all the time.  On the weekend, I make a batch of dough, roll it into a log with plastic wrap– like the store bought kind– and whenever we want a fresh baked cookie we just cut 1 [or 2] cookies from the log and voila! Cookie fix complete. And we indulge maybe a few nights a week.

But then I made them even better.

The French call the magical sensation of caramelizing butter, beurre noisette or hazelnut butter.  That sounds a whole lot more sexy than brown butter, if you ask me.  But regardless of the semantics, brown butter is easy to make and so So SO good. It was the combination of this and a little sprinkling of sea salt on top of these hot chocolatey cookies that simply blew my mind.  The first night I tried it, Jazz walked in from his night class and I told him he was going to die.  He asked why.  I said it was the cookies.  He asked if I wanted him to die.  I said yes.  Our marriage is both beautiful and bizarre [don’t worry, not like Frank and Claire Underwood beautiful/bizarre].

I hope to pass out these cookies as gifts for the Christmas season.  So if I try to give you some, I’m not literally try to kill you.  Just figuratively, with chocolate sea salt and caramelized butter. These cookies are gorgeous and will be easy to package.  Check out this post from The Kitchn for some great ideas for packaging your holiday baked goods.


Brown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies [Frugal Food Series | Tip 9: Treats] // Keeping WillowBrown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies [Frugal Food Series | Tip 9: Treats] // Keeping WillowBrown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies [Frugal Food Series | Tip 9: Treats] // Keeping WillowBrown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies [Frugal Food Series | Tip 9: Treats] // Keeping WillowBrown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies [Frugal Food Series | Tip 9: Treats] // Keeping Willow

Brown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 16 cookies

1/2 cup [1 stick] butter, divided, room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp sea salt + extra for sprinkling
1 cup + 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

1. In a small sauce pan, heat half of your butter on medium heat.  Allow it to caramelize.  The milk solids on the bottom of the pan will be brown when the butter is finished.  Meanwhile, in a medium size bowl, combine the remaining butter and sugar.  Pour the brown butter into the sugar and butter mixture and mix to combine.  Place your bowl in the freezer a couple minutes to cool off the butter, mixing occasionally.  Once the butter and sugar are no longer warm [just a couple minutes] you can move onto the next step.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Add your egg and vanilla, and with a wooden spoon work the egg into the batter until combined.
3. Add flour, salt and chocolate chips and stir until just combined, being sure to scrape the sides for proper incorporation.
4. You can either a) roll your dough into a log, wrap in plastic wrap and store in the fridge or freezer or b) bake immediately.  Bake on an ungreased baking sheet.  Place 2 Tbsp of dough about 2 inches apart on the sheet pan.  Bake for 9-12 minutes (if your baking from the fridge they might take a couple minutes longer).  I can tell these are done when there is just the tiniest rim or golden color along the bottom.  The tops will still look slightly undercooked, but will continue to finish cooking once taken out of the oven.  Sprinkle with sea salt immediately.  Allow to cool at least 5 minutes before removing them from the baking sheet.  Eat slowly.


Pumpkin Bourbon Flan with Pistachio and Thyme Praline

Usually I am a custard purest.

My favorite dessert?  Creme brûlée.  But don’t you dare serve me a chocolate, caramel or dare I say banana version of this delictable dish.  Just give it to me straight with some fresh berries on top, sugar properly caramelized, and I am in the highest heaven.

Now why am I posting a recipe for a spin-off of a traditional flan, another custard based dessert?  I just wanted to have fun.  Fun, you say? Yep.  Some people like to go to a movie for entertainment.  Some find it most amusing to go bowling with friends or some other activity that involves beer and socialization.  While I enjoy those things, my idea of a good time is to look in the fridge, see what ingredients I have to work with –oh, there is some frozen pumpkin leftover from our farm share–, and come up with something crazy –hmm, pumpkin flan…with bourbon…and praline…pistachio praline…with dry thyme, that sounds good– , and then I make it.  So, this is a product of an afternoon full of fun in the kitchen.  Luckily, it tasted pretty good.

If you like bourbon, and if you  like flan, and you have no anxiety about departing from an ideologically and traditionally prepared custard, chances are, you’ll love this recipe.  So go to town.  Eat it up.  I’ll be sitting in the corner with my plain, vanilla flan, dreaming up some other crazy afternoon of fun that I will later share with all of you.


Pumpkin Bourbon Flan with Pistachio and Thyme Praline

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup pureed pumpkin
2 eggs + 2 yolks
1/4 t salt
1 t vanilla extract
1/3 cup bourbon whiskey
3/4 cup roasted, salted pistachios chopped
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
3 T salted butter
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/2 t dried thyme

1. Preheat oven to 325°F.Put an 8″ cake pan inside a large roasting pan and bring a kettle of water to a boil. CARAMEL//Combine ingredients for caramel in a sauce pan and combine Do not stir after this point or your caramel will crystalize. Rather grab a bowl of cold water and pastry brush and brush the edges to keep crystals from forming on the side. Using medium high heat bring to a boil and cook until a gorgeous amber color emerges, continuing to brush the sides of the pan with the wet pastry brush. This will take from 8-13 minutes. You may need to swirl the caramel towards the end to distribute the color evenly. Once the caramel has reached a desirable color, pour it into your cake pan, swirling it around to be sure it is completely coated. {Caution: cooked sugar is much hotter than it looks. Do not touch. Serious burns may occur. Use oven mitts whenever possible}
2. CUSTARD//Combine milk and half the sugar into a sauce pan and with medium heat warm the milk just until it starts to steam and small bubbles form on the edges of the pan. DO NOT BOIL MILK. Boiled milk curdles and will leave an unpleasant texture in your flan.
3. Meanwhile, combine you eggs, yolks, remaining sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.
4. This next step we will temper the eggs or make what the French call a liaison. Slowly spoon in your warm milk into the egg mixture one ladleful at a time, being sure to continually whisk the eggs. Once about half the warm milk is in the egg mixture combine the two. This step is important to facilitate correctly because, if added quickly, the warm milk will cook the eggs and you will end up with a bowl full of scrambled eggs. If for some reason there are little pieces of cooked egg left in your custard, use a fine strainer to remove the cooked egg.
5. Mix in vanilla extract, pumpkin puree and bourbon.
6. Pull out rack in oven slightly and put your flan pans on the rack. Pour custard into cake pan. Using the boiling water from the kettle, pour water into the roasting pan until the water reaches halfway up the cake pan. Slowly and carefully push the oven rack back in. Bake for about 45 minutes. The custard will giggle slightly in the center when it is finished.
7. While the flan is baking make your PRALINE. There are two different pralines pictured above.  The first one, on the flan, I didn’t like ver much.  The second one turned out much better and is the recipe featured here.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. Combine all the praline ingredients into a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar mixture reaches 240°F on a candy thermometer (about 3-4 minutes). Remove from heat and stir vigorously until cloudy and creamy. Pour out onto your parchment paper. Allow to cool and cut into little bits to serve as a garnish with your flan.
7. When your flan has finished baking, take out the cake pan with the custard in it using tongs, leaving the water bath behind. Place on rack to cool. Carefully take hot water bath out of the oven and discard into sink, being very careful not to burn yourself. Allow flan to cool half an hour before putting in the fridge to chill. To unmold, run a knife around the edges and flip onto a plate. Cut a slice, top with the pistachio praline, and devour.

May the dessert menu always have a choice always be a choice that doesn’t make you mad…and takes you to highest heaven.

Creative Commons License
Keeping Willow by Stacy Feyer-Salo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.