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I’m typically more into the salt-of-the-earth joys in life, but sometimes I like making something that feels really celebratory or just kind of…you know, cool. We have gorgeous, hardy celery root (celeriac) in the garden still. It’s thriving in the cool, damp temperatures. Digging one out is a dirty and slightly trying affair, but so worth it. I find it’s a really underrated vegetable. Lovely texture, beautiful clean flavour, creamy and light colour. It’s wonderful. Have you tried it? It’s a bit rough at first sight, but once you get past that tough exterior, it’s all lovey dovey, mushy feelings from there.

Celery and apples are delicious together so I knew that celery root and apple cider would be pretty good buds too. Making a reduction sounds fairly advanced, but it’s usually easy. Just throw some flavours and liquids into a pot, bring it to a boil and simmer the mixture down until it thickens a bit. So simple! If you want to make this more of a side dish kind of thing, you can chop the celery root up smaller and toss it with the reduction when it comes out of the oven. Put a little sprinkle of herb on top and you’ve got a fine little side attraction for whatever you’re serving up (possibly Thanksgiving fare?).

I know that plating it in the way I’ve shown is suggesting a sort of meat-replacement thing. Maybe you’re wondering where the protein is, if the meal is complete or satisfying and on and on. Here’s a little insight on my daily eating habits: quite often, I just feel like a plate of vegetables. As long as I’ve been vegetarian/vegan, I have loved to eat this way. If I see a variety of colours/textures and whole foods on my plate throughout the day, I know my nutrient intake is up to snuff. I don’t fret if my protein or vitamin B12 etc etc intake seems off. I eat unprocessed and colourful foods. That’s it. So easy and feel-good. No nutrition labels to read? No problem.

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roasted celery root with apple cider reduction
serves: 2
notes: If you want to make this a side dish, look for a slightly larger celery root, dice it into cubes, roast it and toss it in the reduction before serving. It should take about 15 minutes to cook at the smaller size.

celery root:
1 small to medium celery root, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 sprig of thyme, leaves removed and lightly chopped
1 tbsp grape seed oil
salt and pepper

2 cups apple cider
1 sprig of thyme
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp natural sugar
2-3 black peppercorns

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F

Start the reduction: Place all reduction ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and keep at a lively simmer until reduced by two thirds. I ended up with a bit more than a 1/4 cup. Stir occasionally. Strain the mixture, pour it back into the saucepan and place it on a low burner to keep warm.

Roast the celery root: toss the slices of celery root with the oil, chopped thyme, salt and pepper. Place slices on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes. Flip the slices at the half way point for even browning. Remove celery root from the oven when golden brown and tender.

Serve celery root with warm reduction on top. Garnish with chopped flat leaf parsley or other fresh herb of your choice (chives would be nice too).

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  • Kelsey (Happyolks)13/11/2011 - 4:26 pm

    LOVE celery root. LOVE the boots. WANT your garden. Badly.ReplyCancel

  • purabi naha14/11/2011 - 9:41 am

    Loved the pictures. What a brilliant idea! I am bookmarking your recipe.

  • Kirsten15/11/2011 - 2:18 am

    Made this tonight with the celery root from my last CSA delivery (sniff!). I thoroughly enjoyed this recipe and especially the thyme/peppercorn flavors in the reduction. This is the first decent recipe I’ve found for this veggie. It’s a keeper for me!ReplyCancel

  • Sara15/11/2011 - 11:04 am

    Thanks for this–I mostly make soups out of celery root but I am looking to branch out.ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth18/11/2011 - 12:44 pm

    You gorgeous pics of digging up your own celery root are making me so jealous! I too love this humble root, and find the smell to be nearly intoxicating. Never thought to pair with an apple cider reduction–your unique take is a great recipe to have up my sleeve as the cold weather sets in.ReplyCancel

  • Carroll @VanillaLemonade20/11/2011 - 10:11 pm

    LOVE this!!! Celery root is tricky and this is a perfect way to utilize it! Yum!ReplyCancel

  • Basic Vegetarian27/12/2011 - 1:07 pm

    Very interesting way to prepare celery root and beautiful photographs.ReplyCancel

  • Katherine14/10/2014 - 5:16 pm

    Look amazing – what have your served it with in the main photos? Red quinoa?ReplyCancel

    • Laura Wright15/10/2014 - 2:05 pm

      Yes it’s a mix of red and black quinoa, and a heap of greens too! :)ReplyCancel

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I’m not one for candy and chocolate bars usually, but I will admit that the mood strikes here and there. We just had Hallowe’en so I was feeling a bit nostalgic and remembering the pillow cases of treats from my youth. After sorting the bars, bags and packages out the next morning, I would start laying into my preferred varieties. Mum would tuck a couple of items into my lunch bag and it was great. Happy days to be sure. I was always way more excited about the saltier snack options though. Huge smiles when a wonderful, saint of a human being dropped a tiny bag of savory potato, pretzel or cheesy snacks into the trick or treat bag. Take 5 candy bars came into my 8-year-old world and everything changed. Chocolate and salt collided and I fell in love.

To elaborate: pretzels, peanuts, chocolate and caramel. Together. Whoa. So! To rekindle that most sincere of loves, I made a slightly more sophisticated and admittedly fussy version in a tart pan. I wouldn’t say it’s a totally guiltless and healthy version of my cherished bar, but it’s fairly wholesome by comparison. It has a lovely crust of graham crumbs and crushed up pretzels, date and peanut butter-based caramel and an incredibly luscious avocado chocolate mousse. We used to make these avocado chocolate terrines at a restaurant I worked at. It was so elegant looking and loaded with Jack Daniels. So delicious. So I took that basic idea, loosened it up to a mousse-y/pudding consistency and it worked out perfectly.

I know I just posted a dessert recipe a little while ago and maybe you overdid it on Hallowe’en night already, but it had been quite a while to be frank. So I thought something totally over the top would make up for everything. That’s just my style sometimes. But mostly I just wanted a chocolate salty thing to eat up without making the trek to the USA for a Take 5. Just sayin’.

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chocolate salty tart with peanut butter caramel & pretzel crust
mousse adapted from here
serves: makes one 10 inch tart
special equipment: a food processor
notes: Be ginger when you’re spreading the caramel on the crust. It picks up the crumbs so easily. A palette knife is incredibly helpful.

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup pretzel crumbs (a heaped handful blitzed in the food processor until fine)
3 tbsp natural sugar
2 tbsp spelt flour
1/4 cup + 3 tbsp coconut oil, melted

1 cup pitted dates (as soft as you can get)
3 tbsp natural peanut butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
juice from half a lemon
2 tbsp non-dairy milk
pinch of salt

chocolate mousse:
2 medium, ripe avocadoes, pitted and peeled
1/2 cup light agave nectar
1/3 cup non-dairy milk
1/4 cup cocoa powder (I used raw cacao for the deep, almost bitter chocolate taste)
1 tsp arrowroot
2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 heaped cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted

For the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Stir all of the ingredients together except the coconut oil to combine. Add the oil and mix until clumps begin to form. Press firmly into a 10 inch tart pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until crust is firm. Set aside.

For the caramel: Place dates in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer until dates are soft, about 10-15 minutes. Drain dates, saving the cooking water.

Place dates and remaining ingredients into food processor and pulse until a puree forms. Add date cooking water if necessary. Scrape caramel into baked and cooled tart shell and spread evenly.

For the mousse: Place everything except the melted chocolate into the food processor. Now’s the time to add some booze if you’re feeling up to it. Turn the processor onto high and puree until mixture is very smooth, about 3-4 minutes. Remove lid and add melted chocolate. Turn to high again until thoroughly combined and smooth. Scrape mousse into tart shell on top of the caramel. Chill the tart for at least 1/2 an hour before serving. Garnish with chopped pretzels or a sprinkle of salt if you like.

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  • Michelle05/11/2011 - 9:45 am

    holy delicious!ReplyCancel

  • amy05/11/2011 - 11:17 am


    (disturbing though, i think i was 18 or 19 when take 5 was launched as an unnamed chocolate bar. yipes, you baby!)ReplyCancel

    • Laura05/11/2011 - 11:33 am

      Maybe you tried it when it was released in Canada under the sneaky “Max 5” label. Now discontinued :(ReplyCancel

  • Jesica @ Pencil Kitchen05/11/2011 - 7:26 pm

    Can’t remember passing a day without thinking chocolate and peanut butter. This is just mouth-watering.ReplyCancel

  • Gaby06/11/2011 - 8:20 am

    ohh.. I want this tart! :)ReplyCancel

  • Kris06/11/2011 - 10:23 pm

    this looks wonderful – pretzels and chocolate and caramel, Oh My!ReplyCancel

  • Joan06/11/2011 - 11:07 pm

    Yum, gotta try this!ReplyCancel

  • The Americaine07/11/2011 - 5:35 pm

    I’m digging the pretzel crust. But then again I have an unhealthy relationship with salt.ReplyCancel

  • Jeffie07/11/2011 - 7:11 pm

    beautiful presentation and it looks DELICIOUS :)ReplyCancel

  • Vegan Bakerista08/11/2011 - 12:03 pm

    What an awesome idea! I love how its vegan too. What a great idea for using dates in the caramel. I bet it creates a nice smooth, caramel-y taste. Thanks for the inspiration!ReplyCancel

  • Priscilla12/11/2011 - 11:49 am

    Oh my goodness, this looks amazing!

    Do you think this can be frozen for a few days? I have a potluck coming up and would love to make this about a week before on the weekend so I have time to make it right!ReplyCancel

  • Laura12/11/2011 - 11:58 am

    I think everything should taste fine. I’m just worried about the crust getting soggy as the whole thing defrosts. You could definitely freeze the crust ahead of time and maybe make the fillings the day of? I promise they don’t take very long! Good luck :)ReplyCancel

    • Priscilla12/11/2011 - 9:57 pm

      Thank you! I’ll give that a shot and let you know how it goes!ReplyCancel

  • […] Chocolate Salty Tart //The First Mess […]ReplyCancel

  • […] multigrain porridge. this banana zucchini bread. this raw breakfast crumble with almond cream. this salty chocolate caramel tart with avocados and dates!!!!! (!!) this corn syrup-free chocolate pecan pie this roasted celery root […]ReplyCancel

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This is a rather… grown-up sort of cake. The flavours are very interesting and complex. They play off of each other surprisingly well. It’s a nice match with some really good, hot coffee on a dreary fall day (guess what the weather is like right now, just guess). I find olive oil cakes are usually filed under the love or hate column for most people. No in-between or “meh” reactions. I’m obviously a fan of the fruity and unique taste and paired it up with some roasted hazelnuts, dark chocolate and rosemary. If I was gonna go there with the whole olive oil thing, I wanted to go all the way.

The cake turned out so tender and buttery. I used all whole grain spelt flour with a good amount of almond meal to make things interesting. I find that it adds really nice textural elements to cakes and cookies, like super crunchy edges and biscuit-y qualities. So good. Once you get a bite of that crisp and nutty edge with a little nugget of roasted hazelnut and a creamy dab of dark chocolate… oh boy. You can make almond meal at home too! If you have a food processor, blender or coffee grinder, you’re all set. Just be careful to not let ‘er rip too long. Hello accidental almond butter! That wouldn’t be so bad…

I didn’t use a terribly expensive oil for this since I needed a whole cup of it. I imagine the more delicately nuanced varieties might lose some of their subtlety once mixed into a batter with sugar, flours, chocolate, rosemary etc and baked for 45 minutes. Reach for the in-store brand and all will be well.

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olive oil cake with rosemary, dark chocolate & hazelnuts
adapted from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain
serves: makes 1 nine inch cake
notes: All spelt flour would work just fine if you don’t have almond meal. You can leave the rosemary out too if you aren’t feeling super adventurous :)

dry mix:
1 1/2 cups whole spelt flour
1 cup almond meal
1/2 cup natural sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 sprig of rosemary, leaves finely chopped
3/4 tsp fine sea salt

wet mix:
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup olive oil
3/4 cup non-dairy milk (or dairy milk, whatever you like)

100 grams dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, peeled and chopped roughly

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 inch round cake pan with olive oil. Place a circle of parchment onto the bottom of the pan and grease that as well.

Sift the spelt flour into a large bowl. Dump any remaining bits of grain in the sifter into the bowl. Add the almond meal, sugar, baking powder, rosemary and sea salt. Whisk to combine.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk the applesauce, olive oil and milk together thoroughly. Pour the wet mix into dry mix in the large bowl. Carefully stir and fold mixture together with a spatula until just combined. Fold in chocolate and hazelnuts.

Scrape batter into prepared cake pan and smooth out the top. Bake on the center rack for 45-50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out of the center part clean. Allow to cool thoroughly before removing from the pan and serving.

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  • Amanda26/10/2011 - 7:43 pm

    I am definitely in the LOVE column when it comes to olive oil cake. This one just shot to the top of my must make list!ReplyCancel

  • catharine31/10/2011 - 5:23 am

    your blog is amazing….I too love olive oil cake and will have to find some time to give this one a try! On a side note. Your food photography is exquisite!!!ReplyCancel

  • Kelsey (Happyolks)03/11/2011 - 10:12 am

    I love olive oil in baking. It gives cake that needed sophistication and nuance I think. Love it. Going home to visit my parents for the weekend, I’d love to make this for them.ReplyCancel

  • Vegan Bakerista08/11/2011 - 12:11 pm

    yum! i;m going to try and make this today. i’ll let you know how it goes! i love the idea of chocolate, hazelnuts and rosemary. three of my favorite flavors!ReplyCancel

  • Vegan Bakerista08/11/2011 - 12:14 pm

    p.s. I added you to my blogroll!


  • I made this last night—absolutely heavenly! I accidentally baked mine for too long, so a note to others to be very watchful if you have a fussy oven like I do, but even being a bit crisp, it was still rich and delicious. And you’ll have a new reader; one of the friends I had over to share it with is a big food blogee, and she was very excited to discover I had a new go-to blog. : )ReplyCancel

  • Laura12/11/2011 - 12:02 pm

    Raechel, so glad you made it and enjoyed it! I actually really love slightly over-baked treats with almond meal. So crunchy and awesome. Go-to blog! That’s too cool :)ReplyCancel

  • Millie03/12/2013 - 3:05 pm

    Just found your blog and everything looks amazing! :) do you mind checking mine out please?ReplyCancel

  • Meggie22/01/2014 - 1:23 pm

    I’m super late to this party, but I just made this cake and really loved it! The flavors are definitely interesting, and for someone with an insatiable sweet tooth, this cake gave me my 3pm chocolate craving but kept me from eating the entire thing with its slight hint (or maybe strong suggestion?) of savory elements. Mine ended up very moist and delicious and notably crumbly-I tried to cut it and serve to family but it ended up in a bowl surrounded by forks, and no one complained. Thank you for this recipe!ReplyCancel

  • Jane01/03/2014 - 3:37 am

    I just made these as little mini cupcakes and subbed the hazelnuts for almonds (as we have a hazelnut allergy in our family)… they are just about the most delicious little morsels I’ve ever tasted. Thank you so very much for your beautiful photographs and recipes, they’re brilliant.ReplyCancel

  • Emily12/02/2015 - 12:51 am

    I’ve never made an olive oil cake before… so I’m not sure what the consistency should be. I made this today and it tastes delicious, but I’m unsure if I’ve cooked it for long enough. I cooked it well over the time and my cake testing skewer comes out of the cake clean, but it does feel extremely moist/even a bit undercooked.
    Is this cake supposed to be very moist and sticky? Or should it be more similar to a regular cake?

    It tastes really yummy!! Just not sure whether to put it back into the oven or not.ReplyCancel

    • Laura Wright12/02/2015 - 8:18 am

      Hey Emily, this cake is quite moist, but if yours seems undercooked I would go ahead and just bake it longer. The oven I was working with when I developed this recipe tended to run a bit hotter, so my baking times always seemed slightly shorter than they should be. I hope this helps!

  • jenny26/08/2015 - 4:15 pm

    should there be eggs in this recipe?ReplyCancel

    • Laura28/08/2015 - 8:12 am

      Almost all of the recipes on my site are vegan, so this one is no exception. If you wanted to use eggs, you could replace the applesauce with 3 whole, large eggs (lightly whisked together).

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I used to intern at a restaurant where they would marinate giant containers of beautiful, ripe olives in extra virgin olive oil, anise seeds, orange zest and black peppercorns. They were usually served with some hummus, fava spread, baba ghanoush etc, a heavy pour of olive oil and some pillowy, homemade bread. They were such delicious olives though. I was always reaching into the service container throughout the dinner rush for a little flavourful and salty bite.

I’ve always loved little bites of pickled or briny things before or as part of dinner. It feels a bit more social, all of the hands reaching into one plate, maybe a bit discreetly spitting out olive pits, messy fingers etc. It really engages you with the meal and the conversation I think. Lucky for me, my boyfriend shares the same penchant for little dinner time nibbles. Bonus: usually when we eat out and there’s one tempting, little sun-dried olive left on the mezze/appy plate, he happily offers it up to me. Good man indeed.

Recently he got me this amazing book by Niki Segnit. I had mentioned a while ago that I was seeking it out and voila! He shows up to our little weekday hangout with the British edition in tow (where the ‘u’ is included in ‘flavour’ most importantly). I am a huge fan of the Flavor Bible. I strongly believe that it replaces the need for most cookbooks. This quirky and beautifully designed volume goes even further with specific ingredient combinations and why they work. I started perusing it and noticed her entry on orange and olive together. It seemed a bit odd at first, but then I remembered my bite-sized snack of choice during service at the restaurant and how perfect it was. So, here it is in salad form with shaved fennel in place of the anise seeds. I love treating fennel this way because the flavour changes entirely. Not as licorice-y and so, so fresh and crunchy.

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fennel & carrot slaw with orange, olives and dill
serves: 4
special equipment: a mandoline or some premium knife skills
notes: The dill really amps up the freshness, but other herbs could work too. Basil has a bit of a licorice note that would be nice or parsley’s peppery quality would fit in too.

1 medium fennel bulb, tops and tough outer layers removed
2 medium carrots, peeled
1/3 cup ripe olives, pitted and sliced
3 sprigs of dill, leaves finely chopped (should end up with about 1/4 cup)
juice of 1 orange (might be different for you, I had a dry-ish orange)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp agave nectar
salt and pepper

Core the fennel: cut the trimmed bulb in half lengthwise. Using a paring knife, make triangular-shaped  cuts around the firm core at the base and remove it. Slice the fennel on the mandoline. I try to go pretty paper-thin, but still retaining structure. Place shaved fennel into a large bowl.

With your peeler, make strips of carrot and place into the bowl with the fennel. Add the chopped dill and olives.

Add the orange juice, olive oil, agave nectar, salt and pepper to the fennel mixture and toss with your hands to combine. Mound on a serving plate and garnish with some reserved dill sprigs if you like.

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  • Ali Seiter21/10/2011 - 9:11 pm

    Ooh, does this look yummy! I usually don’t enjoy olives in composed dishes, preferring them as antipasto snacks, but they sure do appeal to me in this salad. What a perfect homage to fall produce.

  • sweetie24/10/2011 - 3:15 pm

    hello there, i recently made a recipe from your blog with great results. many thanks! your directions were very clearly written. loved the ease.

    i’ve republished the recipe here with changes to the directions. i did give you credit for the delicious inspiration:

  • Jill @ A Cook's Nook26/10/2011 - 10:33 am

    that restaurant sounds like it was all kinds of awesome! I really love fennel and olives, so this is going on my “must try” list. Thanks for the post (as always) :)ReplyCancel

  • Steph@TheChickpeaChickadee16/11/2011 - 12:48 am

    Looks fabulous!! I just discovered your blog. Can’t wait to try out some of the recipes you’ve posted.ReplyCancel

  • […] Anywho, if you’d like to read my first veggie feature on the ever-intriguing and always delightful fennel in the June 22-23 Harmony Valley newsletter, please visit this link! Special thanks to Laura at The First Mess, from whom I adapted two recipes for the feature—her Grilled Fennel and Quinoa Salad as well as her Fennel and Carrot Slaw with Orange, Olives, and Dill. […]ReplyCancel

  • […] Fennel and Carrot Slaw with Orange, Olives and Dill at The First Mess […]ReplyCancel

  • Joanne05/08/2014 - 4:07 pm

    Hello – I love shaved veggie salads like this one and want to start making them at home. What is the best mandoline to have at home for this sort of thing that can handle beets, radish, carrots, fennel, onions, cabbage etc? thank youReplyCancel

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I used to hate mushrooms and tofu. Together, separately, with sauce, without sauce, deep fried, grilled, whatever the method; it didn’t matter. I just didn’t think they were for me because every time I tried them, the texture was off. It felt like I was endlessly chewing tofu or desperately trying to swallow some mushroom as quickly as possible to avoid actually feeling it in my mouth. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why these were commonly available vegetarian main course options at restaurants. They just didn’t seem appealing. What gives!

So now that I’m all grown up, I’ve realized that a) my taste buds/senses for texture have matured just a tad and b) some of the cooking/handling methods used by restaurants with these foods was… not to my taste. I tend to like both of these ingredients in two very precise ways. One: with a crispy exterior and a juicy, yielding interior ie lightly fried with some kind of coating. Um, who doesn’t like that? Two: completely and utterly juicy, velvety smooth, mushy but with a shred of structure and bite. Almost unctuous. Meaty even. This dish falls into that dreamy second category.

This cooking method is one of my favourites. So elegant and fun. And easy too. Once you get some kind of folding and sealing technique down, you’re off to the races. You could try this method with all kinds of veggies and herbs, spices, acidic components, juices, stocks. Lots of possibility. I love the slightly reduced and sweet balsamic vinegar with the pungent and salty miso though. The end-product is super moist and tastes so undeniably true to all of the ingredients. None of the flavour evaporates; into the air and gone forever. You get to take in every little ounce of taste bundled up in that package. And that first bit of steam that rises when you dramatically snip them open? Oh man. Too good.

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mushrooms and tofu en papillote with miso and rosemary
serves: 4-5
special equipment: 2-5 sheets of parchment paper
notes: Be careful when you snip the little packages open! Those pouches are super steamy. You could make this whole recipe easily in two parchment pockets, but feel free to make it in five smaller ones for presentation value.

12 ounces mushrooms, sliced (I used cremini and shiitake)
4 ounces organic firm tofu, diced into small cubes
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 sprig of rosemary, leaves finely chopped
1 tsp miso
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
2 sprigs of thyme (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the parchment paper: Take one sheet of parchment (about the size of a full sheet tray), fold it in half and cut out the shape of half a heart so that when you unfold the paper, the cut out is heart-shaped (ooooh romantic!). Repeat with the other piece(s).

Combine the sliced mushrooms, tofu, garlic, rosemary, miso, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl and toss until mushrooms and tofu are evenly coated in the vinegar and oil.

Place one side of the heart-shaped paper on a baking sheet. Place half of the mushroom and tofu mixture onto the paper, towards the crease and trying to keep it as compact as possible. Place a thyme sprig on top if using. Fold the edge of the paper toward you tightly, starting at the top curve of the heart. After the first fold, take the next inch or so and fold it towards you again, overlapping the previous fold a little bit. Continue this process until you’ve sealed up the whole pocket. Awesome visual instructions found here.

Repeat the sealing process with remaining pockets/mushroom and tofu mixture. Place pockets on a baking sheet and put into the oven for 20 minutes. The packets should be quite puffed up. Snip them open with scissors carefully and serve.

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