Holy cow! I’m in chocolate heaven!

I’ve been OD’ing on chocolate this weekend.

On Food Network, that is. I can’t say that I’ve indulged in much of the actual substance lately (yeah, chocolate is a substance for me – but not a controlled substance, if you know what I mean, so I have to be careful how much I keep around the house).

Because Valentine’s Day is just a couple of days away, my favorite TV network has been spreading it on thick. Many of my favorite Food Net stars have episodes this weekend dedicated to gooey, dark, wonderful, sweet (and even savory!) bits of chocolate perfection. And since my household recently upgraded to DVR service, I can watch these shows in less time because I can skip the commercials!

But who am I kidding? I have spent just as much time watching them without the commercials because I keep rewinding through the good parts. The many, many good and gooey parts …

Am I beginning to sound obsessed? Well … maybe just a little. (Any chocoholic should understand.)

Tonight, during Alton Brown’s special, Good Eats: Turn on the Dark, I nearly got up from my chair (where I ostensibly was working on our taxes), whipped out my stand mixer and started pulling out the butter and cocoa powder. But I didn’t.

I am trying to lose weight, after all.

That’s why I was so excited when my sweet friend – or should I say my sweets-loving friend – Betsy gave me her recipe for vegan brownies, along with all the ingredients to make them. No baking required.

Betsy had offered me one of these brownies a couple of months ago, on the drive back from Hot Springs (where she won some running awards). It was love at first bite – not only because they tasted good but because they were made with such good-for-you ingredients. So I made them last weekend and took one to work with me every day. I emailed Betsy and told her they got me through a very stressful week (big deadline at work, plus my mom was in the hospital).

I know what you’re thinking: “Vegan brownies? I don’t think so.”

That is, if you even know what vegan means. A vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) is a vegetarian on steroids (OK, not literally; that would defeat the purpose). A vegan not only doesn’t eat animals (or, as Mr. Rogers would say, “anything that had a mother”), he or she doesn’t eat products that come from animals – meaning no eggs or dairy. Some (all?) vegans will not wear clothing or use other products that came from animals.

I’m sure some vegan foods are not as delicious as the typical American would like for them to be, but I believe that many non-vegans (like me) would enjoy these brownies; heck, some of you may even be as enthusiastic as I am about them. Give them a try. You don’t even have to turn on your oven (but you will have to clean your food processor).

Note 1: Betsy brought me certain ingredients that I’m quite sure she bought in Little Rock; I’ve never seen pure stevia extract at a store in Batesville (you can buy the less-intense kind at just about any store here, though), and I’m thinkin’ cacao nibs would be on that list, too. But you can improvise or make a shopping list for your next trip to the big city.

Note 2: I found that these weren’t very thick in my 8×8-inch pan, so I made a second batch and spread them a little thicker. Feel free to experiment; the original thickness may be just fine for you.

Give these a chance, and let me know what you think.

Vegan Brownies

(All ingredients preferably organic, but you can substitute where necessary.)

1 cup walnuts
8 large OR 12 medium-size pitted dates (about 1 cup)
5 tablespoons cacao powder
2 tablespoons coconut milk
1 packet pure stevia extract (powder)
pinch salt
1-2 tablespoons cacao nibs (for sprinkling on top)

In food processor, grind walnuts into a “flour” (until it’s fine but grainy). Add dates and grind until mixture is relatively smooth (it will still be grainy).

Add remaining ingredients and mix in processor until well blended. Spread in ungreased 8×8-inch pan. Press cacao nibs on top.

Store in refrigerator.

If we hadn’t eaten all the brownies I were a really good photographer, I would have a great picture of this wonderful dish. But I am not, and I do not. Use your imagination. Or just make the brownies. Then you’ll know why there are none left. And if you make them and don’t like them, just drop them by the Oakley house; we’ll be happy to solve that problem for ya.

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