A Decadent Dairy-Free Treat for Valentine’s Day: Dairy-Free Brownies

Dairy-Free Brownies

When in doubt…chocolate.

Although chocolate on Valentine’s Day is a bit predictable, sometime predictability can be a good thing. Usually on Valentine’s Day, I try to think out-of-the-box and spend weeks coming up with the perfect Valentine’s Day dessert for my husband. However, this year, time seems to have gotten away from me, so I knew I was going to go for something much simpler.

I am a pastry chef and my husband recently became lactose intolerant…talk about bad luck! Could it be that my hubby would never be able to eat one of my desserts again? Yes, of course there are pills that can be taken, but I really wanted him to be able to have a Valentine’s Day dessert that would be no fuss. No pills needed. No issues. I’ve been experimenting with lots of dairy substitutes, coconut oil, nuts, etc and have been enjoying taking on the challenge of converting some of my favorite classic recipes into dairy-free equivalents. For Valentine’s Day, I decided to convert one my favorite brownie recipes and turn my self-proclaimed brownie-hating husband into a brownie lover.

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Beginners Veggie and Herb Garden: Day 11

Well, I was anxiously waiting for my cayenne pepper and lavender cells to sprout and they did not disappoint! Looking at them now, 1 lavender cell and 2 cayenne pepper cells have sprouted! This means that of all of the initial seeds I planted, at least 1 of each cell has sprouted!

Over in the newer seeds I planted, mint, cantaloupe, eggplant and cucumber, 4 cucumber cells sprouted! Their sprouts, unsurprisingly, look very similar to the zucchini and yellow squash, though the leaves are just a bit smaller.

cucumber sprouts

A second yellow squash cell sprouted, with a beautiful, tall, straight stem.

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Beginners Veggie and Herb Garden: Day 9

The sprouts were very busy over the weekend! A second zucchini cell sprouted as well as a 4th snap pea. Even a sweet pepper cell sprouted!

zucchini sprout

The initial zucchini sprout is getting enormous! It is now the tallest plant in the bunch with two very large leaves and a thick stem.

zucchini sprout

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Beginners Veggie and Herb Garden: Day 7

My family think I’m a little bit nuts. Every morning I make my husband come down and check on my sprouts with me as well as send a photo to my mother. In December I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and I am now sending my mother photos of my sprouts rather than my son. Her response is always, “I’d rather watch your baby sprout…stop sending me these photos!” But alas, I get such a rush coming down each morning and checking on my sprouts that I can’t help but send a photo or two.

When I sowed these seeds I was told to do a bunch of each because all of the cells may not sprout. It seems as though I have the opposite problem now! I planted 5 cells of each veggie and herb, though I had 4 different varieties of tomato, meaning that in total, I had 20 tomato cells. I’m not sure if it’s fortunate or unfortunate, but at this point, all 20 cells have sprouted! The yellow pear tomato sprouts have gotten so tall that I may need to lose the greenhouse cover!

tomato sprouts

A second zucchini cell sprouted and looks so different from the first. The first one that sprouted was just a long white and green strand, however, the second one looks like a zucchini flower! It’s beautiful!

zucchini sprout

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Beginners Veggie and Herb Garden: Day 6

I came down this morning and to my delight there were new sprouts. 4 of my yellow grape tomato cells have sprouted…only 1 to go! Additionally, 3 regular tomato cells sprouted overnight.

Grape Tomato Sprouts

The snap pea tendrils are looking more and more devilish every day and a third snap pea cell sprouted.

Snap pea sprouts

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Beginners Veggie and Herb Garden: Day 5

Well, it’s been 5 days since I sowed my seeds and they’ve been growing like crazy! In addition to the herbs that sprouted yesterday, another 2 thyme cells have sprouted as well as another 2 cilantro cells! Also, we now have 2 snap pea shoots and 3 yellow grape tomato sprouts!

It’s been pretty amazing watching the seedlings grown. So far, all of the thyme, cilantro and tarragon sprouts look identical. They all have very short, skinny stalks with two green circles on the very end. I guess they have to still grow a bit to get their individual characteristics.

Thyme sprouts

On the other hand, the snap pea shoots look distinctively like pea shoots. So different from the herbs with a thick, light green curly tendril.

Snap pea sprouts

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Beginners Veggie and Herb Garden: Day 4

Tarragon sprouts

This morning I came down to spray my seeds with some water when I was thrilled to notice that we have sprouts!

I’m so excited to announce that some of the plants have started sprouting! All 5 tarragon cells have sprouted as well as 2 thyme and 1 cilantro cells.

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Beginners Veggie and Herb Garden: Day 0

Veggie Garden: Day 0

I lived in New York City for 10 years and each year tried to grow a small herb garden on my fire escape. However, year after year my plants all died, mostly because I would forget about them. Out of sight, out of mind…

My husband and I moved to the suburbs in September and I am now determined to grow a veggie and herb garden in our beautiful backyard. A friend of mine, an avid farmer, convinced me to try and grow from seeds and so, I will give it a shot.

The process was actually surprisingly easy. All we did was place some potting soil into 2 50-cell growing kits and put a couple of seeds into each one. We labeled them, thoroughly watered them, brought them inside in a sunny spot, put the plastic tops on the kits and we were on our way!

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Baking Basics: Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Although store bought icing can sometimes do the trick, when I spend the time to bake a homemade cake, I want to ice it with something special as well. I find traditional American icing, sometimes known as Confectioners Frosting or Vanilla Frosting, too sweet, essentially being just a combination of butter and confectioners sugar. So, for me, the perfect type of icing to use is Swiss Meringue Buttercream. This is the type of icing that wedding cake designers typically use on their thousand dollar cakes and once you get the hang of it, you’ll never go back. Swiss Meringue Buttercream has a fluffy, satiny texture and isn’t as sweet as American icing due to the addition of egg whites. It can seem intimidating the first time around, but do not fear, once you’ve done it once or twice you’ll be a pro.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream has three required ingredients: egg whites, sugar, and butter. This will make a buttery base to which you can add additional ingredients to get your desired flavor. You can add chocolate, extract, or any flavor puree to do this.

The ratio for Swiss meringue buttercream is easy to remember. It is 1 part egg whites: 2 parts sugar: 3 parts butter.

A basic recipe for Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
4 oz egg whites
8 oz sugar
12 oz room temperature butter

The steps to making Swiss Meringue Buttercream are quite simple:

1. Cut up the butter into tbsp sized pieces. Set aside.

2. Combine the egg whites and sugar in a bowl and place over simmering water. Whisk the two together gently, but consistently, until the temperature on a candy thermometer reaches 160 degrees. If you do not have a thermometer, test the mixture by using the finger test. Dip your index finger in the mixture and rub between your thumb and index finger. The mixture is ready when it no longer feels grainy.

3. Once the mixture has reached the right temperature, remove the bowl from the water and begin to whisk with an electric mixer. Start off slow and as the mixture gains some volume increase to high speed.

4. When the mixture has reached firm peaks and the outside of the bowl feels cool to the touch, reduce the speed of the mixer to low and add in all of your butter at once. Continue to beat until light and fluffy.

5. If adding in any additional flavoring, extract, or puree, this is the time to do so.

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