Saturday, January 29, 2011

No-Bake Chocolate Torte

Just in time for Valentine's day, this is a lusciously rich chocolate torte requiring relatively few ingredients, no oven time and little clean-up. And, oh my, so delicious. 

Funny story: So when I made this torte last week, I had to transport in my car to it's final destination. I wrapped it in plastic wrap and placed it on the bottom of the back seat, so that it wouldn't shift while I was driving. But of course, when I opened the car door with a seat full of food, the first thing the dog did was jump into the back and place two paws squarely in the center of the torte. At least there is documentation that it was at one point beautiful. And maybe it was even tastier when the flavors and textures burst so far beyond what the eye expected.
The crust is largely made from ground walnuts and pecans, making it rich and nutty and incredibly unrefined. You could take this a step farther by using pitted Medjool dates rather than maple syrup (maybe 5?). I think I'll try this next time I make it and report back. 

Soaking the nuts neutralizes the phytic acid found in whole grains, legumes and nuts, which can inhibit the digestion of their precious vitamins and minerals.  It is not a necessary step for the success of the torte, but if you can plan ahead a bit, set them to soak in water the night before. Not only will it increase the nutrition, it will also allow for a smoother filling. Just make sure to drain and rinse them well after soaking and before processing.
Another ingredient note: I replaced half of the cocoa powder in the crust with Dandy Blend, a healthy herbal coffee substitute (which is actually really delicious as a beverage as well, if you are trying to cut back on caffeine but miss your big mug of roasted beans in the morning). It offered a nice complexity to the nutty crust. 


1 cup raw walnuts, soaked
1 cup raw pecans, soaked
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup good quality cocoa
1/4 tsp. salt

12 ounces silken tofu (3/4 of a container)
2/3 cup raw cashews, soaked
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 cup semisweet dark chocolate, chopped

Cocao nibs or shaved white chocolate, for decorating (optional)


Process crust ingredients in a large food processor until a ball begins to form. Place dough in a tart pan and with wet fingers, press to cover the bottom and sides in a thin but even layer.

In a double boiler, or small pot inside a large pot with water, melt chocolate over low heat. Transfer into food processor and add remaining filling ingredients. Blend until smooth and whipped.

Pour chocolate filling into prepared crust and spread to create a smooth-ish top. Garnish with cocao nibs,  or white chocolate shavings and refrigerate or freeze until firm before slicing.

Relax. Eat Well.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Eggplant Manicotti with a Creamy Pesto Filling

I love the flavors of Italian cooking, but I am not a huge fan of bland pasta or hyperbolic cheese. This is my version of manicotti that utilizes the texture of eggplant to hold a lusciously thick and satisfying pesto-spiked cashew cheese. I served it several weeks back alongside a much more traditional dairy-based filling and the overwhelming consensus favored this version. Since the filling is nutrient-packed and filling on it's own, this dish stands up well as a main course. Today I served it alongside roasted spaghetti squash with a brown-butter sage drizzle and sauteed broccolini and shallots. Not a bad little Monday.

Soaking the cashews and sunflower seeds neutralizes their phytic acid, an anti-nutrient found in whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, which can inhibit proper digestion. Luckily, in this recipe, it also softens the nuts and produces a much creamier filling.  Try to plan ahead and set them out to soak the morning before you make the dish, but if you forget and it becomes a last minute project, no worries. If you have a half an hour to let them soak, great. If not, the dish will work without any soaking at all.

For this recipe, I love Heidi Swanson's Five Minute Tomato Sauce. I make it with Muir Glen's Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes, which is a wonderful line of canned tomatoes. The generous olive oil carries ample fresh garlic and a hint of spicy pepper flakes, resulting in a rich and pungent sauce. You don't need more than a few spoonfuls to be completely in love.

Eggplant Manicotti with a Creamy Pesto Filling

1 large eggplant
2 tbs. olive oil

1/2 cup cashews, soaked for at least 4 hours
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, soaked for at least 4 hours
1/4 cup water, plus more as needed
2-3 tbs. pesto
1 tbs. lemon juice
2 tsp. nutritional yeast
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp. ground pepper

1 cup chunky tomato sauce


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Slice eggplant into about 12 thin slices lengthwise. Drizzle baking sheet with olive oil. Line up eggplant slices in a single layer on sheets (may take two trays) and drizzle the tops with oil as well. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until eggplant is very tender and golden brown.

Meanwhile, drain cashews and sunflower seeds from their soaking water and rinse again. Add cashews through black pepper through to a large food processor and blend until smooth. Add additional water as needed to reach a ricotta-esque texture. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper if necessary.

Taking an eggplant slice, spread 1 tbs. pesto filling

along the fat end vertically. Starting at that end, carefully roll eggplant into a small (but plump) cigar. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices. Place rolls back on a baking sheet and stick back in the oven for 5-10 minutes, until warm. Remove and plate (3 rolls per plate), topping with your favorite chunky tomato sauce.

Relax. Eat Well.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Honey Stuffed Dates

Happy snow storm! It is afternoons like this when I remember why I live in Vermont in the winter…. I could sit and watch the flurries ramble down for hours. A quick walk up the road with my goofy-happy dog and it is even more clear…. What a beautiful place we live!

Anyway, the bad news is that the power is out, so I am typing this and hoping to be able to post it later tonight. I was in the middle of making my first batch of homemade paint getting frustrated that my wheat paste wasn’t thickening when I realized, wait, nothing is lit or heating. So, alas, we will move on to tastier topics, such as Honey Stuffed Dates. 

This recipe is very Mediterranean where it is common to serve dried fruit, rich yogurt and savory nuts to finish a meal. A subtle sweet with a certain complexity that goes beyond most overly saccharine American desserts, this treat will truly satisfy your evening cravings.

Medjool dates are large, plump and delightfully gooey on the inside. They typically come with pits that have to be removed. Simply make a small hole on each end with a sharp knife and gently squeeze the pit until it pokes out of one side and you are able to remove it with your fingers or kitchen tweezers. I like to increase the size of the hole a little more with some additional knife twisting, to make plenty of room for the rich and zesty filling. Dates are a wonderful source of natural fiber, and are cleansing and astringent to the intestinal tract.

This dessert does a little advanced planning as you need to begin straining the yogurt the night before. The easiest way to do this is with a large piece of cheese cloth or extra large tea bag.  Once you have it contained, twist at the top and hang from the faucet so that the excess liquid (whey) can drip throughout the night. If you are feeling ambitious, collect the whey to use the next time you make Kimchi instead of some of the salt. It is a fabulous source of probiotic bacteria as well as potassium and Vitamin B6 and helps retard the growth of the "bad" bacteria, just as the salt does, during the fermentation process.

Honey Stuffed Dates
Serves 8

24 medjool dates, pitted
1 cup strained plain whole-milk yogurt (see above for tips on straining)
1 orange, zested and supremed
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbs. raw honey
1/4 cup almonds, finely chopped
1 tbs. bee pollen (optional)


Pit and prepare dates as described above. In a medium bowl, mix the strained yogurt, orange zest, vanilla and honey. Spoon mixture into a pastry bag with a medium tip (or a sturdy plastic bag with one corner snipped in a pinch).  Carefully insert tip into each of the date and squeeze until the filling fills the cavity and begins to exit. Add a generous dallop on each end.

Mixed chopped almonds and bee pollen thoroughly in a small bowl. Dip each stuffed date end into the mixture and spin to coat.

Serve with orange wedges or other fresh fruit.

Relax. Eat Well.