Valentine’s vegan samosa shepherd’s pie

This year, my Valentine (ūüö®!!!) and I booked a retreat in the piney woods of Crockett, Texas.

A few weeks earlier, I’d gotten it into my head that I needed to stay at a DIY cabin — you know the kind, with repurposed wood countertops and galvanized tub sinks. As luck would have it, we found just the one in a small town, two hours north of Houston.

To get there, KT and I drove through the winding countryside, following mysterious instructions (“pass the church and the fire department and look for the dirt road with the mailboxes”) until we found our sweet little property. There was a miniature horse and donkey grazing out front, and a babbling creek tucked behind the house. Our AirBnB hosts lived in a geodesic dome compound a few yards away. For two city kids, this was really, really exciting.

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savory coconut chips

SNACKS! I had an itch that needed to be scratched. Due to my self-imposed detox, however, most treats were off-limits. What could I eat that did not:

  • contain a mind-boggling dose of sugar, wheat, and/or other questionable ingredients,
  • cost me a miniature fortune in the alternative aisle of the grocery store;
  • require spendy equipment, like a dehydrator; or
  • involve kale, which I’d had a dozen ways over by now?

My thoughts turned to coconut. A few weeks ago, I’d impulsively bought a pack of coconut chips, thinking it’d make a good treat, but the raw flakes were¬†entirely too dry, chewy, and strangely, faintly sweet. I abandoned them until recently, when I spotted some inspired (and expensive) treats at my local health foods store. After routine Googling, I retreated to the kitchen with a bag of lifeless coconut and emerged with a tray of addictive lil’ nuggets.

I dug through my spice drawer and hit¬†the coconut chips with¬†savory, Middle Eastern-inspired flavors. A quick toast fired up the natural oils in the coconut,¬†sealing in the seasoning, crisping up the flakes,¬†and drawing out rich and nutty undertones. I’ll definitely be making these again, especially after the look on Jay’s face when he threw some back with his beer — they’re a perfect salty bar snack. “You should sell these,” he said earnestly. If I do, I wonder, might I charge as much as those healthy snack producers? A girl can dream…

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trail mix cookies

I have no green thumb to speak of (as evidenced by my office succulent that I somehow managed to kill), so instead of cultivating a garden, I’ve been working on growing my pantry. What used to be a sad, spartan collection of cans has now proliferated into jars of random spices, flours and oils. I used to be intimidated by funny-sounding ingredients, but now I heartily embrace them for their kitchen-experience-enhancing properties.

My latest additions have included almond meal, coconut oil, plain cashews, and flax seed meal. I bought these ingredients without any purpose or prior experience, trusting that my “alternative” cooking instincts would find a use for them. As my cooking instincts are wont to do, they naturally turned to dessert and compelled me to make cookies… healthy¬†cookies.

I took the “kitchen sink” approach to these treats, throwing in whatever nuts and dried fruit happened to be lying around. I also added gluten-free oat flour for flavor, flax seed meal for heartiness, and dark chocolate drizzle ’cause I wanna. I brought these to dinner with friends and earned absolute rave reviews; they had a hard time believing that these cookies were vegan! We paired these with ice cream and all was good in the world.

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healthy orange-chocolate mousse bars

Back in April, my extraordinarily talented friend K whipped up a chocolate mousse. What’s more — it was healthy. Not even just relatively healthy, mind you. It was loaded with protein, low in fat, rich in flavor, and light in texture. Exactly right.

The secret ingredient? (You should know by now, there’s always a secret ingredient!)

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vegan chocolate avocado cake

Note: This recipe was updated with photographs on March 3rd, 2014.

My mom adores avocados. As a child, I remember watching her eagerly dig into a halved avocado with a spoon, savoring every buttery bite. I was notoriously picky and couldn’t, for the life of me, understand the appeal of such a weird-looking fruit. Now I know better… and thank goodness for that!

Naturally, when I was home last week, my mom sent me home with tons of food — among them, a lot of homegrown avocados. I had to use them all, and guacamole was out (my mom had also included a tub of it in her care package)! Researching ways to prepare and eat my bounty, I came across Joy the Baker’s recipe for vegan chocolate avocado cake. Totally intriguing. I’m not a newcomer to vegan baking, nor am I scared of funky-healthy ingredients in my desserts. Consider this baby made.

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chocolate chip oatmeal cookie pancakes

I know — three healthy recipes in a row? Despite what it may seem, my life is certainly not a never-ending series of delicious homemade meals (though one can dream…).

These chocolate chip oatmeal cookie pancakes, without hyperbole, has to be one of my favorite recipes thus far — vegan and gluten-free or not! This is my ideal breakfast: incredibly moist, texturally interesting, guilt-free¬†pancakes with just the right hint of sweetness and decadence.¬†The magic is thanks to the hearty oats, unbeatable combination of banana and nut butter,¬†and (of course) chocolate.

A million thank-yous to The Minimalist Baker, whose recipe can be found here. We used oat as our choice of flour and substituted peanut butter for the almond.

I truly cannot wait to make these again.

black bean brownies

I have a major sweet tooth. It’s truly been an uphill battle, fighting my cravings in pursuit of a healthy diet. Lucky for me, people on the World Wide Web are incredibly resourceful. Case in point: Chocolate Covered Katie. She’s the mastermind behind a mind-boggling number of healthy, vegan, accessible and (most importantly) delicious dessert recipes.

I’ve been bookmarking her recipes left and right, and could not wait to try this particular one out! Vegan, flourless chocolate chip brownies. And get this: the secret ingredient is black beans. I’m glad I wasted no time in making them. I can’t decide what the best part is… The fact that all the ingredients were in my pantry? Knowing that the brownies were relatively low calorie and high in protein? Perhaps that they were so very simple to make? No, my friends… it’s that they were incredibly, decadently delicious. What more could you ask for?

cauliflower crust pizza

I’ve been on a clean eating streak recently and have been on the hunt for healthier versions of my favorite junk foods. Two thoughts: (1) Thank goodness for the Internet — what an amazing medium; and (2) You’d be surprised at how inventive people can get! I’ll definitely need to create a top 10 “to-try” list very soon.

Here’s one recipe that we did get to try: cauliflower crust pizza. That’s right. The pizza “crust” is actually just a mix of shredded cauliflower, mozzarella, and egg, all mixed up and crisped in the oven. It has all the goodness of pizza without the carb factor. I went a little rogue following the recipe and decided to pre-cook the cauliflower on the stove-top with a few tablespoons of water added. I wouldn’t recommend it — the pie was a little soggier than would be ideal — but the finished product was still incredibly tasty. We topped our ‘za with zucchini, eggplant, and mushrooms, but you can obviously do as you please. Definitely a repeat recipe!

There are tons of recipes out there. We used Eating Bird Food’s incredibly simple one, though Closet Cooking’s rendition also looks intriguing.

(Please pardon the undeniably less-than-glamorous photo! Obviously, I can’t be bothered to grab my camera and take real pictures — not when there’s a fresh pie in front of me.)