Curried Barley with Chickpeas

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Let me be the first to admit I can’t remember the last time I cooked with barley. It is possible that I never did! Oh boy, am I glad I managed to bring some into my kitchen just couple of weeks ago!

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Barley is one of those grains that can be easily passed off in favor of others such as quinoa etc. However, with its delectable chewy texture, thickening properties and satisfying nature, I think it could definitely be one of the most promising grains out there. If you have never had it before and are wondering how it tastes, it tastes like tiny bits of cooked pasta, but perhaps a bit chewier. Definitely a pleasant taste and texture.

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For my first attempt at preparing a vegetarian entrée using barley, I wanted something very flavorful and substantial, yet without much heaviness. A pilaf-style dish should fit the bill and that’s what I did. The end product was very satisfying, especially with the addition of chickpeas and was very flavorful with just the right amount of curry flavor.

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Curried Barley with Chickpeas

  • Servings: 4-5
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Ingredients:
1 cup of uncooked barley
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup chopped onions
1 tablespoon ginger/garlic paste
1 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced red peppers
1 6oz can tomato sauce
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
1/4 teaspoon allspice spider
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Preparation
1. Melt the butter in a medium pan over medium heat.
2. Sauté onions and ginger/garlic paste till onion turns translucent and starts to turn golden.
3. Add the barley (rinse barley before adding, if needed) and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
4. Add the vegetables and continue to cook for another 3 minutes. Now add the ground spices.
5. Stir in the tomato sauce, salt and water. Bring the mixture to boil, cover, reduce heat and cook for about 25-30 minutes till all the water is absorbed and the barley is fully cooked.
6. Finally, stir in the rinsed chickpeas and warm through for another 5 minutes.
7. Serve immediately. Leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated.

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Crispy and Chewy No-knead Bread

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I love freshly baked bread. It is one of my favorite things to create in the kitchen, especially in the colder months. The recipes I have tried in the past have all been the kneading type with lots of all-purpose flour. So, when I came across a recipe online at http://www.the-baker-chick.com which in turn referenced another posted at http://www.simplysogood.com, I thought it’s worth the try since it involved very minimal time commitment.

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This recipe is very versatile meaning you can mix in various things. Janet at Simply So Good gives you a whole bunch of options. In my version, I added a heaping tablespoon of harissa sauce. It infused the bread with bit of heat and a touch of caraway flavor in addition to giving it an orangish tint.

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Replacing half the all purpose flour with whole wheat and adding in a bit of ground flax made the bread a bit more wholesome. It is a little denser than the white bread variety (which I would make next just for comparison), but packs a lot of flavor. I brushed a slice lightly with olive oil and toasted in a pan and it was delightfully crispy and chewy. Whether you are looking for a no-knead bread recipe option or something different for a change, this recipe is a definite keeper.

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One caveat – this dough needs to be proofed for a long period, typically about 12 – 18 hours or so. I proofed mine for about 19 hours and it was great. So, if you are like me, feel free to mix up the dough on impulse and let it do its thing!

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Crispy and Chewy No-Knead Bread

  • Servings: potentially could serve just 4 🙂
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Ingredients
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup ground flax
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 heaping tablespoon harissa sauce, optional
1 1/4 cups room temperature water

Preparation
1. Dissolve yeast and sugar in 1/4 cup of warm water and set aside for 5 min till frothy.
2. In a large bowl, combine all flours and salt.
3. Add yeast mixture and remaining water to the flour mixture and mix with a wooden spoon or spatula till a “messy” dough forms. If using harissa or another add-in item, stir it in while adding the water and yeast mixture.
4. Cover with a plastic wrap and keep on the counter top or in a cool oven for 12-18 hours or more till the dough bubbles up and more than doubles.
5. At the end of the proofing time, remove the bowl from the oven and set oven to 450F.
6. After the oven is preheated, place a pizza stone or an oven proof ceramic container in the oven to preheat for 15-20 minutes at least.
7. Invert a large cookie sheet and place a sheet of parchment paper on it. Empty the dough onto the parchment paper and with heavily floured hands gently mold the dough into a dome shape (mine was about 8 inches or so in diameter).
8. Open the oven and quickly slide the parchment sheet with the bread onto the pizza stone. If using a ceramic bowl, slowly invert the dough into the container.
9. CREATING STEAM EFFECT – I used a heavy stainless steel bowl to cover the dough while baking so the moisture from the sticky dough could act as the steam. If you don’t have a similar set up (or if not using a ceramic dish with a lid), you could preheat a broiler pan on the bottom rack of the oven while preheating the pizza stone and add about 2 cups or so of hot water as soon as you slide the dough onto the pizza stone.
10. Bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue baking for another 15 minutes or so till the bread sounds hollow when tapped.
11. Carefully remove from pan and loosely cover with a kitchen/bread towel.
12. Serve toasted or untoasted with spreads of your choice or just a dip of olive oil and garlic.

“Broken”

For any of you that might have been reading about my 8-week training plan to run….

My last week of the 8-week plan came to a screeching halt mid-week. I guess I must have “thrown” my back. Bottomline, much to my dismay, I was unable to finish my week 8 as planned. I am limping along on a road to recovery and hope to be back on the ‘mill soon!

Basic Healthier Pizza Dough

I am constantly on the hunt for good bread dough recipes and I am constantly tweaking them. This pizza crust recipe is one such discovery and fine tuning. This results in a crust that is slightly nutty (due to the soy, flax and wheat) and lends for a crisy, yet chewy crust. All in all, my type of crust! This is especially good for a thin crust pizza or a Chicago-style crust without all the butter and heaviness. I hope you will give it a try and let me know how you liked (or didn’t like) it!

Healthier

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup soy flour
1/4 cup ground flax
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 packet active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preparation1. Dissolve yeast in warm water and stir in sugar. Let stand for 3-5 minutes.
2. Combine all flours, ground flax and salt.
3. Stir in olive oil and pour in the frothy yeast mixture.
4. Knead the dough for at least 5 minutes till a smooth, elastic dough is formed.
5. Oil a large bowl and place the dough in to begin the rising process. Turn the dough over so the oil coated surface is on the top. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and keep in a warm spot for 1 – 2 hours till the dough doubles in volume.
6. After the first rising, punch dough down and shape the crust as desired.

Lighter Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza

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How many of you have heard of tried Chicago-style deep dish pizza? The pie with its classic tall buttery crust, similar in appearance to a tart shell lovingly embraces within its boundaries copious amounts of cheese, sauce and toppings of your choice. For a person with a normal appetite, one slice is all it will take to satisfy your hunger. Anything beyond that is pure indulgence on cheesy, buttery, flaky, chewy goodness.

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Although a fully loaded cheesy pizza with all the trimmings can be delicious, I am discovering that a homemade crust topped with lighter cheeses and healthier toppings are far more superior in taste and nutrition than what you can get at a restaurant. I especially enjoy making crusts with varying combination of spices/herbs etc. and amping up the nutrition value by lowering the cheese and increasing the amount of veggies. In order to stick with healthier options, for a meaty pizza, I prefer small amount of cooked crumbled bacon or diced up grilled chicken breast.

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This pizza however has just sliced vegetables – I would have used more but had to do with what I had on hand that was topping appropriate.

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This is the first time I ever tried making Chicago-style deep dish and I am delighted to say that my kids who can be harsh critics (even though they will eat whatever I make) enjoyed every bite of it. Fresh mozzarella used melts beautifully leaving a nice cheesy curtain when you lift a slice to serve. The crust, molded in a tart pan crisps up nicely on the outside while remaining chewing and soft on the inside. It also holds the toppings well without getting soggy. I did modify the crust recipe a little bit by adding a teaspoon of garlic powder and 1 teaspoon each of crushed dried parsley, basil and oregano. All in all, another successful pilot attempt in my kitchen.

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Lighter Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza

  • Servings: 6
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Ingredients
1 recipe dough
4 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/8″ slices
1/2 cup part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups of sliced vegetables of your choice (I used red peppers, tomato and red onions)
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. After the dough has proofed, punch it down. Grease a large tart shell with removable bottom (or similar pan with at least 1 1/2″ tall sides) lightly with nonstick cooking spray (or oil).
3. Pat the dough down on the pan and stretch lightly to cover the bottom and the sides completely.
4. Prick the sides with a fork and layer the bottom with fresh and grated mozzarella.
5. Bake for about 7 minutes till the fresh mozzarella begins to melt. Remove from oven and spread your favorite sauce (I used heart healthy bottled sauce).
6. Top with your favorite toppings. Sprinkle parmesan cheese and drizzle the olive oil all over.
7. Return to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes till vegetables are cooked and crust is golden.
8. Serve immediately.

Whole wheat chocolate chip muffin

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Of late, I am trying to have on-hand at least one “to-go” type of food item for those days when everyone at home is running around like a hamster trying to get ready to start the day.  One of my ultimate favorite is Swiss-style muesli (aka overnight oats, chia pudding). Store bought granola bars (and their friends and family) are convenient but they are usually packed with lots of refined sugars and other unnecessary ingredients that are used to extend their shelf-life. So, I have been thinking of alternatives to help us eat a litter healthier.

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This is where this recipe fits in. I am not saying these whole wheat muffins are totally healthy at all. They are definitely carb-heavy. Each muffin has about a tablespoon of added sugar (which equates to about 12 grams/48 calories of added sugar in each muffin plus whatever is in the chocolate chips). American Heart Association recommends less than 100 calories from sugar for women and 150 for men. On the other hand, 12 muffins use up only 2 eggs and 1/4 cup of butter, so I guess that may qualify them to be low-fat? 🙂

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Having said that, I think these are probably better for you than most of the regular muffins that one might get at a grocery store, school/office cafeteria or at a coffee-shop. If you are used to super moist and light muffins, be forewarned that these muffins are on the denser side due to the small amount of added fat and the denseness of whole wheat as compared to all-purpose flour. However, these are quite soft and full of flavor (especially with the hint of orange flavor in them) and I hope you will enjoy them as much as we did.

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Whole wheat chocolate muffin

  • Servings: 12
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Ingredients
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup prune puree (homemade or store bought)
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup 1% milk
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup ground flax
1/4 cup cocoa (I used Dutch processed)
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a large bowl, blend butter, prune puree and sugar until well mixed and light.
3. Add eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition.
4. Add vanilla and orange zest.
5. Mix all the dry ingredients, except chocolate chips in a medium bowl.
6. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients alternating with 1% milk.
7. Slowly stir in chocolate chips.
8. Pour batter into a 12-muffin pan lightly sprayed with non-stick cooking spray or lined with paper liners.
9. Bake in the preheated oven for 16-19 minutes and test for doneness.
10. Let cool and transfer to airtight storage container.

Whole wheat pasta in spinach and ricotta sauce

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! I really had all the intention to develop a complete St. Patrick’s Day dinner menu with a green color theme – including a mint, avocado or pistachio based dessert! But, alas, time just slipped by too fast!

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In an attempt to at least pull together a wholesome main entrée, I looked around my kitchen for appropriate ingredients. We enjoy pasta, so I decided to take the route of a pasta dish served with a pan grilled tilapia filet.

This recipe uses whole wheat pasta (pick any type you choose – spaghetti, rotini, penne….), frozen spinach, reduced fat ricotta, bit of garlic, sundried tomato, paremesan and white cheddar. For the meat/seafood component, you could go either with chicken, fish or shrimp to get the optimal flavor. I don’t think beef will be a good match for this pasta dish. Just my opinion! 🙂

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This pasta, as you can see from the picture, is very green! If green is not a favorite food color in your household, I would like to urge you to still give this a try. Spinach combined with garlic and ricotta results in such a delicate flavor, you will soon overlook the color. The color did not bother my family even a bit, and I must say, I will certainly prepare this dish again. I hope you will give this recipe a try and let me know your feedback.

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Whole wheat pasta in spinach and ricotta sauce

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients
8 oz whole wheat pasta
8 oz frozen spinach
3 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
3/4 cup low fat ricotta cheese
1/4 cup (or slightly more) cooked pasta water
1 tablespoon olive oil plus additional tablespoon
1/4 cup thinly slivered sundried tomato
1/4 cup grated white cheddar or mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation
1. Prepare pasta according to directions. Drain, reserving about 1/4 cup of pasta water.
2. Thaw frozen spinach, squeezing out excess water.
3. Heat a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and lightly brown the garlic.
4. Blend spinach, garlic, ricotta and reserved pasta water in a blender or food processor till smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Pour the spinach sauce over cooked pasta. Add white cheddar or mozzarella cheese and sundried tomato and toss to mix.
6. Transfer the pasta/sauce mixture to an oven-proof baking dish and sprinkle parmesan cheese over it. Drizzle about the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.
7. Place the dish under the broiler set at medium high/high heat and broil for about 5-7 minutes till cheese is melted and top is lightly golden.
8. Serve immediately with grilled chicken or fish.

Crispy, Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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When it comes to cookies, I would imagine the two leading contenders are probably chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin? Maybe it’s peanut butter something instead of oatmeal raisin. Although I do enjoy a yummy chocolate chip cookie once in a while, I tend to lean a bit more towards chewy oatmeal raisin. The bite and chewiness of oats, soft sweetness of raisins…mmmm….

So, when I decided to bake a surprise batch of cookies for the kids (and…ahem…mom and dad), I thought of combining the two cookies. Although I didn’t add any raisins in this recipe, I might consider adding some the next time I make these cookies.

I try to substitute at least some of the all-purpose flour with something more nutritious like oats, ground flax etc. This recipe lends itself perfectly to that – if you wish to replace about 1/4 cup of flour with ground flax etc. Also, I chose to use mini chocolate chips in this recipe in an attempt to have bit of chocolate in every bite and to reduce the total amount of chocolate. It worked out perfectly.

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Do use only about a teaspoon of dough at least 2 inches apart. The cookies spread well and results in a thin cookie with a perfect crispy texture when you first bite, quickly leading to a pleasant chewiness. This was a huge hit with my family as well as my kids’ friends. I think you will enjoy it.

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If you bake these, let me know how they turn out. I would love to hear about your experience.

Crispy, chewy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

  • Servings: 30 cookies
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Ingredients
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup (heaping) ground flax
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 larger egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Combine flour, oats, ground flax, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
3. In a large bowl, beat softened butter with the sugars till well combined.
4. Add egg and beat for another minute. Stir in vanilla.
5. Slowly add flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir until just combined.
6. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts. Dough might feel a bit wet, but that’s OK.
7. Scoop the dough by teaspoon size onto a cookie sheet, spacing each scoop by at least 2 inches.
8. Bake in the preheated oven for about 10-12 minutes till edges are light brown and the cookie has spread well.
9. Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes on the tray and finish cooling on a cooling rack.
10. Store in airtight container.

Soy-ginger glazed salmon burger with crispy Asian slaw

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We love salmon in my family – although our tastes differ when it comes to preparation method – broiled, grilled, in curries, steamed etc. But, what we all enjoy is a juicy and well-seasoned salmon burger!

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I have made salmon burger in various ways before – primarily changing up the seasoning mix. However, I had never made one infused with Asian flavors of soy, ginger and sesame. Last night seemed to be the time for it! I had all the ingredients I would need making it a snapt to proceed!

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This is a three part recipe – salmon patty, soy-ginger glaze and Asian slaw. Once you gather all the ingredients, it’s pretty fast to assemble. You could skip the slaw but I think you will miss it. 🙂 I personally think this particular burger is elevated to a whole new level with the addition of the fresh, crunchy topping. You have various options for the slaw – a combo green and purple cabbage with some tart apple, a combination of Napa cabbage with red onions and radish etc. Served on a lightly buttered and toasted bun, topped with a smattering of the slaw, this burger will likely become a family favorite!

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Soy-ginger glazed salmon burger with crispy Asian slaw

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients
Salmon Burger Patty
1 1/4 lbs salmon
1/2 inch ginger, finely minced
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons finely minced onions or green onions
1 tablespoon Asian chili sauce or sambol oelek
1/4 cup panko or regular breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1 egg, lightly beaten

Soy-ginger glaze
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon brown sugar, optional
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Asian slaw
3 cups of shredded and thinly sliced Napa cabbage
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
5-6 red radishes, cut into thin strips
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

Preparation
1. Start by mincing the salmon either in a food processor or using a knife. If using a processor, take care not to over process as salmon will very easily turn into a “paste”.
2. Combine salmon with rest of the patty ingredients. Cover and set aside while you prepare the glaze.
3. In a small saucepan, combine the glaze ingredients and simmer on low-medium heat for about 5 minutes till the sauce thickens and become syrupy. Transfer to a small bowl and let cool.
4. Combine all the slaw veggies in a bowl.
5. Heat a griddle over medium/medium-high heat. Cook salmon patties for about 4 minutes per side till it is golden and cooked through.
6. Toast the hamburger buns with a very light spread of butter.
8. Toss the slaw veggies with the soy-ginger glaze.
9. Assemble the burger, drizzling bit of the glaze on the patty. Top with the tossed slaw and ENJOY!

Decadent Minty Brownies

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Decadent brownies! Yikes, I wasn’t really planning on preparing something so indulgent, but I had to prepare them for school and so I did! And OK I confess, I did have a piece (and I promise, it was just one piece) and it was DIVINE!

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These brownies are so rich and satisfying that you only need to indulge in one to satisfy your craving for something sweet to round off your meal. The recipe is adapted from the original posted on http://www.bonapetit.com. My version uses less sugar, bit of ground flax, bit of instant espresso, 1/4 cup mini semi sweet chocolate chips and mint extract.

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If you don’t like your brownies too sweet, feel free to reduce the sugar to 3/4 cup. I found 1 cup sugar to be a bit too sweet for my liking, so I will definitely be cutting it down next time around! Also, if you are watching calories, bonapetit.com says these are 110 calories per piece (16 pieces total). I baked mine in a 9″X9″ metal pan and cut them into 20 pieces. So even though I added just 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips, these brownies cut into 20 pieces should be a 100-calorie dessert. Just guessing!

Decadent Minty Brownies

  • Servings: 16-20
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Ingredients
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
1 level tablespoon instant espresso
2 eggs
1/2 – 1 tsp mint extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder (you can omit this if you are using regular cocoa powder)
1 heaping tablespoon ground flax
1/3 cup all purpose flour

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 350F (325F if you are using glass pan)
2. Prepare the baking pan by spraying it lightly with nonstick cooking spray
3. Combine sugar, cocoa, espresso and salt in a medium bowl.
4. Add melted butter to the above and stir well to combine.
5. Add eggs one at a time and whisk to incorporate well. Follow with mint extract.
6. Combine flour, ground flax and baking powder.
7. Stir the flour mixture gently into the cocoa mixture.
8. Stir in mini chocolate chips.
9. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes until the edges are well set and middle tests done.
10. Let cool and cut into 16-20 pieces.