The Real Food Journal
Valentine’s Day Brownie Hearts
As Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s all about finding a chocolate treat that will woo your sweet heart. Sure, you can buy a box of chocolates, or take that special friend out to eat. But nothing says I love you like a home baked dessert. These luscious Valentine’s Brownie Hearts will give you both the chocolate thrill you crave, with a little hidden healthfulness from our favorite fruit, the avocado.
Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate
Is it possible to have too much chocolate flavor in a brownie? In these, the brownie and the frosting are both flavored with pure cocoa and melted semisweet chocolate, for a deep, dark chocolate kick. Instead of butter, there’s a combination of avocado puree and coconut oil in the brownie, for that richness that makes a brownie a brownie. Because they have no eggs, you can underbake them just enough to leave the middles nice and moist.
Red Berries are Required
Every Valentine’s I look at the pale, white shouldered strawberries, flown in from somewhere South, and sigh. But it is part of the annual festivities to buy some out of season berries, and perhaps dream wistfully of the summer berries to come. The raspberries are usually better than the strawberries, if you don’t mind laying out the cash. Berries always feel a little luxe in the wintertime, and that is what we are going for on Valentine’s Day.
Heart Shaped Brownies, or not…
I have heart shaped ramekins, but if you don’t you just need ramekins that hold at least 3/4 cup, or you could even use a muffin pan. The baking times might vary slightly if you use a different pan, so just test them and don’t overbake. You want that slightly gooey middle. It’s sexier.
Avocadoes are Aphrodisiacs…
When you make these treats, you are using one of the foods that is on all the lists of aphrodisiac foods. Whether it makes you feel extra frisky, it’s hard to say. There are plenty of people eating avocado toast these days, maybe they know something we don’t. I can promise that the avocado helps nourish all your sexual systems, with good fats and fiber to keep your heart healthy.
Have a healthy, happy Valentine’s Day, whether you spend it with a lover, a friend, or by yourself. You deserve a treat, and chocolate always works.
Valentine's Brownie Hearts
These plant-based treats are chocolatey and delicious, and hide the fact that they are made richer with creamy avocado.
- 1/4 cup ground flax
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup unbleached flour
- 1/2 cup cocoa
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup coconut oil melted
- 1 ounce dark chocolate chopped
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 2 large avocados mashed
- 2 large avocadoes
- 2 tablespoons coconut cream
- 2 tablespoons cocoa
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 pinch salt
- 4 ounces dark chocolate melted
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- strawberries and raspberries for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Oil 6 heart shaped ramekins that hold at least 3/4 cup (6 ounces), place on a sheet pan and reserve.
In a cup, mix the flax and water and let stand to thicken.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda.
In a small bowl, combine the coconut oil and chocolate and microwave until melted. In a medium bowl, mash the avocado until completely smooth, then stir in the chocolate mixture. Stir in the brown sugar and vanilla. Scrape into the dry ingredients and stir only until mixed.
Use 1/2 cup portions to fill the prepared ramekins, and smooth the tops.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, leaving the middles underbaked. Cool on racks.
For frosting, place the avocado in the food processor and process until very smooth. Add the coconut cream, cocoa, vanilla and salt and blend. Add the melted chocolate and blend, scraping down and repeating until very smooth.
Run a knife around the sides of each brownie and tap out onto a plate. Spread the frosting on the hearts. Garnish with berries.
Valentine’s Day Sushi!
Valentine’s Day always calls out for a splash of red on the plate. Crimson hearts and ruby red beets just go together. So, for a heart-healthy flash of red, try my Pickled Beet Handrolls. There is pink pickled ginger, pink tofu, and curly red leaf lettuce in every roll, too, for a burst of color.
February is Heart Health Month…
So why not celebrate Valentine’s with a heart healthy handroll? While we like to think of paper hearts and romantic love, the truth is, we need a healthy ticker to keep the love flowing. Beets are famously heart-healthy, with a natural dose of nitrates that convert to Nitric Oxide, which relaxes your circulatory system, allowing blood to flow more freely. That boost in circulation is also a boon to sexual health, so beets should be required in all Valentine’s menus!
Handrolls are the Easiest Valentine’s Sushi
If you are intimidated by sushi rolls, and don’t have a sushi mat, these handrolls are for you. Instead of crafting a cylinder, you create a little cone, with assorted delicious fillings that spill attractively out one end.
Quick Pickles Make Life Better
Steam a beet, slice it and toss with vinegar and sugar, and you have a quick pickle. Let is marinate for a while, and the juices double as a marinade for the tofu. Tofu takes on a lively pink tint from the beet juices, and a bit of sweet-tart flavor. You’ll probably have some left over, and you can use them on salads, in sandwiches, or just eat them up on their own.
Pickled ginger, wasabi and plant-based mayo add lots of flavors to this roll, as they nestle up to the soft tofu and crunchy beets. Tender brown rice and baby lettuce leaves provide unique textures to keep you interested.
Valentine’s Day will be more fun, if you eat something light and nourishing, instead of a heavy, rich feast.
Of course, you can always save room for chocolate!
Pickled Beet and Tofu Handrolls
Quick Pickled Beets provide a tangy marinade for the tofu, cutting a few steps on your way to showy, pretty handrolls.
- 1 cup medium grain brown rice
- 1 3/4 cup water depending on variety
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 large whole beet
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 pinch salt
- 1/2 block extra firm tofu
- 1/2 cup pink pickled ginger drained
- 12 leaves baby red leaf lettuce
- 6 sheets nori
- vegan mayo, wasabi, soy sauce for dipping
To cook rice: Place the rice in a medium bowl and cover with cold water. Swish with your hands for a few seconds, then pour off the water. Drain in a wire mesh strainer.
Place the rice in a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When boiling, cover tightly and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 30 minutes, depending on the variety. When all the water is absorbed and the rice in tender, take off the heat and let stand, covered, for five minutes. Spread on a plate to cool. Stir the vinegar and sugar in a cup, then drizzle over the rice, and fluff with a fork. Cover with a damp towel until time to use.
Trim the beet into a cube, and steam over simmering water. When tender when pierced with a knife, let cool. When cool enough to handle slice into 1/2 inch thick slices, then stack and slice into 1/2 inch wide julienne. In a storage tub, stir the vinegar, sugar and salt and add the beets, toss to coat. Marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Cut the tofu in strips in the same manner as the beets. Place in a bowl and drizzle with the marinade from the beets, and gently toss to coat.
Assembly: Use sharp scissors to cut nori sheets in half, reserve. Prepare a bowl of cool water with a shot of rice vinegar added, and have a clean towel for your fingers. On each nori sheet, place a couple tablespoons of rice on one half. With wet fingers, pat the rice to cover a square area at one end of the nori, leaving the remaining portion exposed. The corner of the square of rice that is closest to the center is the point of the cone. From that corner, place a leaf of lettuce, pickled ginger, a piece of beet, a piece of tofu, and mayo, if desire . Roll the rice around the fillings, keeping the point of the cone closed. Dab some vinegar water on the exposed nori and dry your fingers. Roll the nori around the cone and press to seal.
Meal Prepping is The Key to Eating Well
Ask people what keeps them from eating healthfully, and most will say: lack of time. Somewhere along the line, we became convinced that it’s just as good to grab packaged food, to save time for other things. But the real solution to being “too busy to cook” is Meal prepping. So, being a helper, I wrote a book to solve the problem.
When I described my next book, Vegan Meal Prep; A 5-Week Plan with 125 Ready-to-Go Recipes to a millennial friend, she said, oh “it’s adulting.” I suppose you can call it that. Maybe you grew up with someone else making your meals. Now you are an adult and you have to invest a little time into making sure you eat well. A couple of hours on the weekend, and boom, you can be set up for weeknight meals. Taking responsibility, that is kind of grown up.
Try a Little Meal Prepping Today
The book is available for pre-order, if you want to change the way you are eating for the better. If you just want to dip a toe in the waters of meal prepping, try making some caramelized onions and roasted brussels sprouts, and see how you like having them all prepped for the week. Then you can make dishes like this Caramelized Onion and Brussels Sprout Cavatappi.
Caramelized Onions Are Magic
As a private chef, I often cook all day, prepping finished meals for clients. Because I have a whole week’s worth of food to make, the first thing I do is throw a panful of onions on the stove. While I cook other things, I can saute those onions, low and slow, and make an ingredient that will improve every dish it touches.
To understand what is going on in that pan, it helps to understand the onion. Inside each juicy onion, there are natural sugars. Applying heat to the chopped onion causes “pyrolysis,” and breaks the sugar molecules into smaller sugar molecules. Polysaccharides become monosaccharides, and the onions get sweeter. The heat also breaks down the structural elements, which are largely starches, into sugars, and makes the onions soft. There’s also another famous chemical trick going on in the pan, called the Maillard Reaction. That’s what causes browning in many cooking processes, and it releases lots of amazing flavors from the onions cells, as well.
This is all so cool that I can’t believe that anyone doesn’t want to do it immediately.
Temperature, Moisture and Time are Key to Caramelization
Low heat allows the processes to happen as they should. If your onions get soupy, raise the heat a little to cook off the water, since caramelization occurs more readily in a dry pan. Be patient. You need at least an hour. Any recipe that claims caramelization happens in 10 minutes should be burned.
I’ve had editors try to change my recipes to make it 10 minutes. We all need to do our part to educate everyone we know. a hint of browning is not caramelization. There is no shortcut.
While Caramelizing, Do Meal Prepping
And as the anguished cries rise from the crowd, “but an hour is like, forever!” just remember, you can prep all the other things while the onions cook. For this recipe, we throw some brussels sprouts in the oven to roast for 20 minutes. Cook a pot of quinoa or your favorite grain. Throw a whole sweet potato or two in the hot oven and roast until tender, and you’ll have raw materials to make great meals.
Once you have baked Sweet Potatoes, you can make one of these recipes:
Meal Prepping Makes Life Better
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll see. Whether it’s a tub of sweet, intense caramelized onions, or cooked quinoa, or a few butter-soft sweet potatoes, your prep will save you. Instead of calling the pizza place for delivery, you can take that prep and make a genuinely delicious meal. Save dollars, save time, and eat more plants.
Meal Prepping is the answer.
Caramelized Onion Prep and Cavatappi with Brussels Sprouts and Pistachios
- 3 pounds yellow onions
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus more for pasta
- 2 pinches coarse salt
- 1 pound brussels sprouts halved
- extra virgin olive oil
- smoked salt to taste
- 8 ounces Cavatappi or Gobbetti, whole wheat 3 1/2 cups
- 1 large carrot finely julienned
- 1/2 cup toasted pistachios chopped
Place a 12 inch skillet or a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Drizzle in the olive oil, then add the onions and salt and stir to coat with oil. When the onions start to sizzle, reduce heat to medium-low. Stir every 10-15 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan, and if they start to stick, reduce to low. Keep cooking for an hour, they will shrink and turn the color of caramel candy. When you have 3 cups or so, take off the heat. Let cool. Measure 1 cup for the pasta, store the rest for other dishes.
While the onions cook, roast the Brussels sprouts. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Spread the halved sprouts on a sheet pan and drizzle with oil, sprinkle with smoked salt. Roast for 20 minutes. Let cool. Reserve 1 1/2 cups for pasta, store the rest for other meals.
For pasta, bring a big pot of water to a boil, add salt. Cook pasta according to package directions, about 12 minutes. Add the carrots for the last two minutes. Drain well.
In the pasta pot, place the cup of caramelized onions and brussels sprouts, and a splash of olive oil just to keep it moving as you stir over medium heat. When heated, add the pasta and toss to mix, stir until all is hot again.
Serve sprinkled with pistachios.
I made a spread of dishes from Plant Based Meats, Hearty, High Protein Recipes for Vegans, Flexitarians, and Curious Carnivores, and they made a big splash on TCL!
Everybody is in a hurry these days, especially when it comes to getting a meal on the table. I get it. I love writing recipes that people will actually use, not just aspire to make. Time is of the essence. In that spirit, I’m sharing this easy Creamy Pumpkinseed Cilantro Dip with Roasted New Potatoes.
Creamy Pepita Dip Is Fast
All you need is a food processor, and you can just throw in a few ingredients and blend them up. That’s easy and fast. It’s also made with nourishing pumpkinseeds, or pepitas, and fresh green cilantro.
Pumpkinseed kernels, not to be confused with the white ones still in the shell, are nutritional stand-outs. High in several forms of vitamin E, they act as antioxidants in the body. They are good sources of minerals like manganese, phosphorus, copper, zinc, and iron. They are especially valuable as a source of zinc for vegetarians, who aren’t getting it from meat. The fats in pumpkinseeds are good fats, and 1/4 cup provides almost 10 grams of protein.
This is a delicious way to finish off that bunch of cilantro before it wilts in the crisper drawer. There’s a hint of Mexico in the flavors, and fresh jalapeno gives it a teensy kick. It’s not hot by any means, so if you want a little more heat, add another chile.
Crispy New Potatoes Are Irresistible
Yes, these dippers do involve a knife and a few minutes in the oven. But it’s cold outside, and you deserve a hot meal. I used little Yukon Gold potatoes, simply halved, then tossed with olive oil and spice. Chipotle powder gives them some smoky heat, and turmeric makes them golden. Roasting them gives them a crispy edge for dunking into that bowl of dip.
Ditch the Fries and Try Pepita Cilantro Dip with New Potatoes
I know that vegans love fries, and many vegan restaurants are happy to serve what sells. But really, these roasted new potatoes are better. Why deep fry, when you can get the same bang for the buck without bathing your food in a bucket of oil?
To my taste, these have all the good qualities of french fries and aioli, with none of the downside.
So dip to your hearts content.
Roasted New Potatoes with Pumpkinseed Cilantro Dip
Crank the oven and make a quick meal, while the potatoes roast you can blend up a satisfying, whole foods dip.
- 1 pound new potatoes halved
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon chipotle powder
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 3/4 cup pepitas hulled, plus more for garnish
- 1 cup cilantro packed
- 2 cloves garlic peeled
- 2 large jalapenos seeded
- 1/2 cup non-dairy cream cheese
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise your fave
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the halved potatoes on a sheet pan and drizzle with oil. Sprinkle on the spiced and a big pinch of salt. Toss to coat and roast for about 20 minutes, until tender when pierced with a paring knife. Take out and keep warm.
For dip, toast the pumpkinseeds in a small skillet. Place over medium-high heat and swirl until the seeds start to toast and pop. Dump into the food processor and let cool. Add the cilantro, garlic and jalapenos and process until finely ground. Scrape down and process again to make a paste. Add the cream cheese, mayo and salt and process to mix. Scrape out into a bowl. Makes about a cup.
Serve hot potatoes with dipping sauce.
As a recipe developer, I pay attention to the food trends that are on the move. Some are absurd, like unicorn food, or charcoal in everything. But some flavors rise to the top by just being good. The latest seductive combo I’ve been flirting with is the merger of chocolate and tahini.
Chocolate Tahini is the new Peanut Butter and Chocolate
Is it possible that anything could be as beloved as peanut butter and chocolate? Maybe, maybe not. But in the quest for the new and exciting, chocolate and tahini is pretty cool. Tahini is a little bit more savory, and if you make it the way I do, the spread is not nearly as sweet as most chocolate spreads or sauces. If you want to add more sweet, you can, but I think it’s a little more grown up to enjoy the flavors of sesame and cocoa, with just a hint of sweet.
Banana Bread +Chocolate+Tahini= Yum
The Chocolate Banana Bread in this recipe is rich and moist, almost a cake in its own right. It’s also sweet enough that it doesn’t need a sugary filling. I made extra chocolate Tahini to use as a spread later, just to gild the lily a bit. This bread is also terrific with a fruity spread, like orange marmalade.
Chocolate Tahini is Your New Spread
Once you make some chocolate tahini, you can branch out, too. It’s a fun dip for crisp apple slices and juicy pineapple chunks. Salted pretzel rods and pitas can serve as sturdy vehicles to get the chocolate tahini into your mouth. For a crazy good dessert, use the chocolate tahini over your fave ice cream, or spread it on a cookie. Just imagine a gingersnap with a schmear of chocolate tahini, and your mouth waters, doesn’t it?
Kind of Like Dippable Halvah
Halvah is one of those underappreciated foods in the US, probably because we don’t see anything but packaged, dried out halvah. There’s no reason sesame seeds can’t be a delicious dessert. Just check out my trip to a Halvah store in Amsterdam, and my recipe for Pistachio Halvah Eggs.
All the crazy flavors in that halvah store, including chocolate, work well with tahini, too.
Get in on the Trend Now, Beat the Rush
I’m sure you have some soft bananas in your kitchen, and I hope you have a jar of tahini. You should be set up to make this tasty bread, and see what the flavor-fuss is about.
I promise it will be better than Unicorn Food!
Chocolate-Tahini Banana Bread
Chocolate and Tahini make a ribbon of flavor in this moist, chocolatey loaf.
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 2 tablespoons cocoa
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 cup organic sugar fine (grind in a blender if chunky)
- 2 tablespoons canola or avocado oil
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 3/4 cup unbleached flour
- 1/4 cup cocoa
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup non-dairy milk
- 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
- 1 cup mashed banana
- 1 cup organic brown sugar or finely ground sucanat
- 1/2 cup canola or avocado oil
- 2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar for topping
For the smoothest tahini, blend in a Vitamix or other blender. Start by grinding the organic sugar until very fine and powdery, then add the tahini, cocoa, vanilla, salt, sugar and oil and blend, scraping down as needed. (You can just mix it all in a bowl, too.)
Measure 1/2 cup for the bread, and transfer the rest to a small jar or bowl for use later.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9x5 inch metal loaf pan.
In a large bowl, combine the flours, cocoa, baking powder, soda and salt. Whisk to mix.
In a cup, combine the non-dairy milk and flax seeds and stir. Let stand to thicken slightly.
In a medium bowl, thoroughly mash the banana and add the brown sugar, oil and flax mixture and mix well.
Stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture, just until combined.
Spread about half of the batter in the loaf pan, then drizzle the half cup of chocolate tahini across the batter, keeping most of it centered in the pan. Dollop the remaining batter over the top and spread gently to even the top. Sprinkle with Turbinado sugar.
Bake for about 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with no wet batter clinging to it. Cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes before slicing. Once cooled, keeps tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Big Fat Sushi Rolls
Do you ever feel that sushi is too precious? The most authentic sushi comes to you in tiny bites, designed to make you really appreciate what’s in your mouth. But sometimes, you just want a big fat sushi roll. Americans love sushi, and we want our food Texas-sized. This roll is hefty enough to serve as a main course for two people, especially if you make some Miso Soup. Asparagus with Walnut Sauce would be good, too.
Save Time, Make One Jumbo Sushi Roll
I have taught sushi classes for years, and have demonstrated everything from thin Kappa Maki to elaborately garnished Inside Out Rolls. But what most students want to learn is how to make a standard rolled sushi, or Futo Maki, with a spiral of colorful ingredients inside. It’s one of those things that seems like it will be hard to do, until you do it. All it takes is a bamboo rolling mat (also called a makisu) and some plastic wrap.
Brown Rice is Great in Jumbo Sushi
The key to a good sushi roll is the rice. According to tradition, sushi chefs apprentice for years, making the rice over and over. The standard sushi rice is white, so I like to switch it out with a whole grain, and use medium-grain brown rice. Brown rice is much easier to cook, you don’t need years of training to get it right. Brown rice will give you more protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, so why not switch? I bought a brown version of the Japanese variety of sushi rice. Cook yours according to package instructions, or use 1 1/2-2 cups water per cup of rice. Check for doneness at 40 minutes.
It’s all about “Going Tubular”
To hold all this stuff, you will be using three sheets of nori on one roll. Two will be joined to make one long sheet, and a third will be placed over the seam, to keep the bountiful roll from exploding. Nori is one of the healthier foods you’ll eat all day, so an extra sheet is a very good thing.
Building a maki roll is an exercise in making an even pad of rice and placing ingredients in such a way that it can be rolled into an even “tube.” Beginners often make the mistake of not spreading the rice to an even depth all the way to the edges of the nori. That will not roll up properly. It’s also important to line up even slices of fillings so that they roll easily. After watching hundreds of people make their first maki, I’ve seen it all.
Don’t worry, it all tastes good, even if the roll turns out lumpy!
Of course, you can fill your roll with whatever moves you. Just make sure to cut it into even strips. Carrots, cukes, even roasted veggies like sweet potatoes can be rolled into your maki.
We Love Mayo in Sushi
Purists may look sideways at the American love of mayo in rolls. Sushi chefs have made it popular, and they use a Japanese mayo called “Kewpie,” that is super rich and amped up with added MSG. You can use your fave vegan mayo, and stir in wasabi to taste. I like it in this roll, it adds to the over-the-top quality, and complements the creamy avocado.
So, if you’ve ever wanted more sushi, here’s a way to make four rolls in one. The old saying, “too much is just enough” may very well apply here, in a jumbo sushi roll that’s a meal for two.
Jumbo Sushi Roll with Tofu and Beets
Make these fat rolls and fill them with tasty veggies and tofu, for a sushi treat!
- 1 medium beet steamed
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar divided
- 1/2 block extra firm tofu drained and patted dry
- 1 cup medium-grain brown rice
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 large avocado
- leaf lettuce
- 1/4 cup sliced pickled ginger
- 2 tablespoons mayo
- 1 teaspoons wasabi to taste
- 3 sheets nori
First, steam the beet whole until tender when pierced with a knife. Run cold water over the beet as you strip the skin off with a paring knife, then place the beet on a cutting board to cool slightly. Cut the beet in 1/2 inch slices, then stack them and slice in 1/2 inch strips. Place in a small storage tun with a lid and pour 2 tablespoons of the rice vinegar over, add a generous pinch salt, and toss to mix.
Slice the tofu into strips the same size, and place in the container with the beets. Put on the lid and flip the container to coat the tofu with beet juice and vinegar. Let the mixture marinate for at least an hour, turning occasionally.
Place the rice in a small pot with 1 1/2 cups cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to low and cook for about 30-40 minutes. When the rice is tender and all the water has been absorbed, take off the heat. Let stand for at least 5 minutes. Let cool.
When rice is cool, mix the remaining tablespoon of vinegar with sugar and drizzle over the rice. Fold in to coat.
Prep the vegetables and wrap your rolling mat with plastic wrap.
Place a nori sheet on the rolling mat, dampen the far edge, and place another sheet on that overlapping by an inch. Press to make one long sheet. Place the third sheet over the seam.
Spread rice over the nori, leaving an inch bare at the far edge. You'll use all of the rice. Arrange the fillings as shown in the photo, making even rows of each.
Start rolling up from the bottom, holding the fillings in place with your fingers as you use the mat to roll the nori and rice into an even cylinder.When you reach then end of the mat, carefully pull the roll back and keep going. Dampen the bare edge and turn the roll to sit on the seam.
Carefully slice in 6 fat slices and place on plates. Serve with wasabi, tamari, more pickled ginger, and whatever else sounds good.
Watch me live on KARE 11 with Pat Evans. The Plant Based Meats Cookbook is making waves!