Winter Tomatoes

Winter TomatoesThis tomato recipe is my secret weapon for entertaining. I pretty much always make it when we are hosting brunch because it’s so easy, it makes your house smell amazing, and it’s a great compliment to egg dishes. There is no reason you couldn’t serve it for dinner, too, but let’s be honest–when was the last time we threw a dinner party? Most nights by 9pm we are drinking hot chocolate and watching House Hunters in our pajamas.

This recipe is all about the magic of slow roasting. Go out and buy the most horrifying supermarket tomatoes you can find–it’s December, this won’t be difficult. I like to use those dull red, rock hard plum tomatoes that are always on sale at Stop & Shop. Then slice them up, toss them with some olive oil, whatever fresh herbs you have on hand, salt and pepper, and a pinch of sugar to bring out the sweetness that I swear is buried somewhere deep inside. Then put them in the oven and forget about them. Seriously–I went for a 5-mile run while these were cooking. When they are done they will taste like something straight from a farmers’ market in July. I promise.

When you are working with an oven at such a low temperature, you don’t really have to stress about the time at all. You can take these tomatoes out after two hours or leave them in for three hours; they will be delicious either way. My friend Seth has a restaurant-grade oven in his apartment that is always heated to around 200°F, and he leaves tomatoes in overnight.

I like to serve these with just a sprinkle of freshly chopped basil, but you can also add a splash of balsamic vinegar, chopped olives or capers, sliced avocado, or (obviously) fresh mozzarella for a non-vegan winter caprese. I love to eat any leftovers over good bread spread with cashew cream.

Winter Tomatoes
Serves 6 as a side dish

12 plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh herbs (I like a combination of rosemary and thyme)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh basil, for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 250°F. Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise and transfer them to a baking sheet. Toss with the olive oil, garlic, herbs, sugar, salt, and pepper. Arrange them in a single layer, cut-side up. Bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until they are very soft and juicy. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with fresh basil if you like.

Celery, Green Apple, and Walnut Salad

Celery, Green Apple, and Walnut SaladIt’s the week before Christmas and right smack dab in the middle of Hanukkah, which means that I should be writing about gingerbread or jelly doughnuts, or maybe frosted cookies or boozy eggnog. In fact, the very last thing I should be writing about is celery, which is at the top of every diet food list, right up there with plain rice cakes and fat-free cottage cheese. (When I was in high school, someone told me that it actually burns calories to eat celery. That’s probably not accurate, but I ate a lot of it at the time.) I really was planning to save this post until January, when we will all be forgoing dessert and hitting the gym in squeaky new sneakers, but I can’t help myself. It’s too delicious and I’m too excited about it not to share the recipe right this very instant.

True story: after eating a second helping of this salad, Alex put down his fork, looked at me quizzically from across the dining room table, and said, “Maybe I am a celery person.” Has anyone, in the history of eating, ever said they are “a celery person”?! I don’t think so. But I’m pretty confident that this recipe has the power to change all that. Tender, crisp celery and juicy slivers of green apple are tossed with a tart lemon dressing that packs an umami punch thanks to a secret ingredient. Drumroll, please… miso paste. Like anchovy paste, you won’t be able to taste it, but it imparts a deeply savory flavor. Just before serving, the salad is showered with crunchy toasted walnuts. Yum.

This is a perfect winter salad. Does celery technically have a season? I don’t know. But you can always count on in to be available and fresh, and unlike, say, strawberries, it tastes the same in January as it does in June. The salad is crisp and light and acidic, which makes it an ideal accompaniment to rich cold-weather fare like braises or roasts.

Make sure you buy a whole bunch of celery and not a package of pre-cut stalks. The leaves are really pretty and pack a ton of peppery flavor, and you will be sad if you don’t include them. This is a great make-ahead option because all the lemon juice keeps the apple from turning brown, and the celery actually gets crisper as it sits in the dressing. Just save about half of the dressing to freshen it up, and toss with the walnuts and parsley just before serving.

Celery, Green Apple, and Walnut Salad
Makes 4 side dish servings
Adapted from Ina Garten

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
1 tablespoon minced shallot (or 1 small minced garlic clove, because I forgot the shallot)
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon miso paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 heaping cups thinly sliced celery stalks, leaves included, sliced on the diagonal
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

At least 1 hour before serving, whisk the olive oil, lemon zest, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, shallot (or garlic), celery seed, celery salt, miso, and a big pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl. In a large bowl, toss the celery and apple with the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice. (According to Ina, even though there is lemon juice in the dressing this step makes a difference, and I believe everything Ina says.) Add half of the dressing and toss. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, toss the salad with the remaining dressing, the walnuts, and parsley.

Roasted Vanilla Bean Apple Pear Sauce

Roasted Vanilla Bean Apple Pear SauceI’m a very good cook, but my mother-in-law has me beat in several important categories, including all things poultry and potatoes. We are celebrating Hanukkah at her house this week, and of course she is making her amazing, perfectly crispy and golden brown latkes. They are one of Alex’s all-time favorite foods. I’m doing my own latkes on Christmas Eve, but I’ve already accepted defeat. There is no way mine will ever be as good.

I do want to contribute something to our holiday celebration, though. And one thing I know I can make is an applesauce that will blow any jar of Mott’s out of the water. Normally I just simmer some chopped apples, water, sugar, and spices on the stovetop and then mash it all together with a fork. But for special occasions, I like to get a little bit fancy.

Roasting the apples and pears concentrates their flavor and heightens their natural sweetness. Instead of the usual cinnamon, I flavored this version with maple syrup and vanilla bean. The coconut oil gives the sauce body–it tastes really rich and luxurious. I would say you could substitute dark rum, good brandy, or Riesling for the water, but according to my mother, the psychologist, who uses my blog posts to shrink me, I “talk about wine too much.”

We’re using this sauce for latkes, but it would also be lovely with French toast, pancakes, or waffles, with oatmeal, or even over vanilla ice cream. It will keep for about a week in the fridge, and it also freezes well.

Roasted Vanilla Bean Apple Pear Sauce
Makes 4 cups
Loosely adapted from Martha Stewart

1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/2 pounds tart apples (such as Granny Smith) peeled, cored, and quartered
1 1/2 pounds firm-ripe pears, peeled, cored, and quartered
2 tablespoons coconut oil (solid, not melted)

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Whisk the maple syrup, water, sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a 9-x 13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. With a small, sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise. Using the back of the knife, scrape out the seeds. Whisk the seeds into the pan and toss the spent bean in, too.

Arrange the apples and pears in an even layer in the pan over the maple syrup mixture. Dot with the coconut oil. Roast until the fruit is very tender, about 35 minutes. Discard the vanilla bean. Transfer the fruit and juices to a large bowl and puree with an immersion blender. (Alternatively, puree in batches in a food processor or regular blender.)

Double Chocolate Granola

Double Chocolate GranolaIf we are friends, at some point in our relationship I have probably given you something to eat. Maybe it was a jar of jam or a batch of cookies, but most likely it was granola. Obviously, I love homemade food gifts, and granola holds a special place in my heart. It’s simple to make, it lasts for weeks, and it feels both healthy and a little bit indulgent. Every year around the holidays, I make a huge batch and divide it up among my family, friends, and coworkers.

This year’s version definitely leans towards the indulgent side. I recently learned that Jacques Torres sells tiny, 4-ounce bags of chocolate-covered Cheerios for $6. You guys! I don’t mean to sound like a curmudgeon, but that’s ridiculous. There are literally only two ingredients: chocolate and Cheerios. When it comes to dessert for breakfast, we can do so, so much better. Like by adding coconut. And crunchy toasted almonds. And espresso powder.

I realize that I just posted a different chocolate recipe like five minutes ago, but whatever, this is my blog and I can do what I want. Also, maybe you are like me and have done approximately 0% of you holiday shopping yet. If that’s the case, grab a huge container of rolled oats and head into the kitchen. Mission accomplished. You can thank me later. I also like wine gifts.

You can substitute honey for the maple syrup (though honey isn’t strictly vegan), or hazelnuts for the almonds. Add up to 1 cup of dried fruit with the chocolate chips, if you prefer. Cranberries or cherries would be especially nice.

Double Chocolate Granola
Makes approximately 6 cups

3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups slivered almonds
1 cup shredded or flaked unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup canola oil
1/3 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon instant espresso or instant coffee powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup mini chocolate chips (I like the Enjoy Life vegan brand)

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, almonds, and coconut.

In a small bowl, whisk the oil, brown sugar, cocoa, maple syrup, espresso powder, vanilla, and salt. Pour over the oat mixture and stir to combine. Spread in a even layer on the baking sheet and bake, stirring often, until the granola is fragrant and toasted, 20 to 25 minutes. Watch very carefully in the last 5 minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn. Remove from the oven and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Crispy Chocolate Bark with Ginger, Fennel, and Sea Salt

Crispy Chocolate Bark with Ginger, Fennel, and Sea SaltIf you cook half as much as I do, you probably have some favorite chefs and food writers. You recognize their names, and trust that their recipes will turn out right. I’m willing to bet that Ina Garten is on your list, as well as Chris Kimball, Deb Perlman of the Smitten Kitchen, and Melissa Clark from the New York Times (you didn’t hear it on my vegan blog, but her lamb meatballs are the bomb). I’d like to throw another name out there: Grace Parisi. For something like 20 years, she was the head of the test kitchen at Food & Wine, and her stuff is sooo good. It’s exactly the kind of food I love to cook: seasonal, simple, and a little unusual.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled on a recipe she developed for chocolate wafers sprinkled with sea salt, crystalized ginger, and candied fennel seeds. I wasn’t compelled to make it immediately, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. The candied fennel seeds had me at once intrigued and suspicious. Would they really be delicious, or would I end up wasting a lot of expensive vegan chocolate? I kept circling around it, reading over the instructions and looking at the picture, but ultimately chickening out and making something else.

But then (due to an unfortunate incident involving a bottle of maple extract) I had to clean out my pantry, and I found a package of fennel seeds that I forgotten about. I figured the universe was trying to tell me something.

Instead of Grace’s wafers, I decided to use a crispy chocolate bark as my base. Candying the fennel seeds sounds fussy, but in reality it only took about five minutes. In fact, the whole recipe was so easy that Owen was able to help me with it, but you’d never know from the results. This bark tastes like something you would get at a fancy chocolatier. The flavors are absolutely brilliant together. The sweet licorice notes of the fennel seeds are a perfect compliment to the spicy ginger, and the sea salt knocks the whole thing out of the park. Incorporating Rice Krispies into the base lightens everything up, so you can eat a bigger piece for fewer calories.

This is definitely a grown up treat. If you can’t quite wrap your brain around the candied fennel, here are a few variations on the crispy bark theme. Get creative and use what you love! One recipe yields enough for two generous holiday gifts. The bark will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for about two weeks.

Peppermint Oreo Bark: Yes, Oreos are vegan! Leave out the fennel seeds, crystalized ginger, and sea salt. Top the bark with crushed candy canes and crushed Oreos.

Trail Mix Bark: Substitute granola (choose one that’s not super clustery) for the Rice Krispies. Leave out the fennel seeds, crystalized ginger, and sea salt. Top the bark with raisins and chopped roasted and salted peanuts.

Pistachio Apricot Bark: Leave out the fennel seeds and crystalized ginger. Top with chopped pistachios and chopped dried apricots. Don’t forget the sea salt!

Smoky Almond Cherry Bark: Leave out the fennel seeds, crystalized ginger, and sea salt. Top the bark with chopped smokehouse almonds and chopped dried cherries.

Pretzel: Leave out the fennel seeds, crystalized ginger, and sea salt. Top the bark with crushed pretzels.

Crispy Chocolate Bark with Ginger, Fennel, and Sea Salt
Makes enough for 2 generous gifts
Adapted from Food & Wine

1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 (12-ounce) package vegan chocolate chips
1 tablespoon coconut oil (solid, not melted) or vegetable shortening
2 cups Rice Krispies
1/2 cup minced crystallized ginger
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt, such as fleur de sel

In a small skillet, toast the fennel seeds over medium heat until warm and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar melts and coats the fennel seeds, 1 to 3 minutes. Scrape the fennel seeds onto a plate and let cool. Break up any clumps.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the chocolate chips and coconut oil or shortening in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 20 second increments, stirring in between, until melted and smooth. Stir in the Rice Krispies. Using a spatula, spread in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with the candied fennel seeds, crystallized ginger, and sea salt. Using a second piece of parchment paper or your clean fingers, gently press the toppings into the chocolate.

Transfer the baking sheet to the refrigerator and chill until the chocolate is set, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Carrot Soup with Orange, Cinnamon, and Ginger

Carrot Soup with Orange, Cinnamon, and GingerWhen Owen was a newborn, I used to take him to Bloomingdale’s in the Baby Bjorn. Our apartment in Brooklyn was right near the Q train, which runs express to 59th St. Despite what you may think, Bloomingdale’s is actually very baby-friendly. You don’t have to go outside to get from the subway into the store; the bathrooms are huge and clean, and have changing stations; and, best of all, Forty Carrots is on the 7th floor.

If you are a nursing mom, Forty Carrots should be your new favorite restaurant. Thirsty much? Here is a gallon-sized Diet Coke. Hungry? Thought so. Here is a trough of frozen yogurt with all of the toppings. (As my friend Sarah says, milk goes in, milk comes out.)

Drinks and desserts aside, my absolute favorite thing on the menu was the carrot soup. It was warm and comforting, with a faint hint of orange and just the right amount of salt. Over the past few years I’ve tried to recreate it, and while I’m happy to report that I’ve never made a bad carrot soup, I’ve never made one as good as the Forty Carrots version either.

Until now. You guys, this is it. If you’ve ever made carrot ginger soup and thought, meh, I implore you to try again with my new recipe. I swear it won’t disappoint. It tastes rich and complex, but it’s actually very light and healthy. I think it’s the perfect weeknight meal in between your (my) weekend holiday cookie binges. Just one note: do not cheat and use store-bought orange juice, or the Tropicana flavor will totally overpower everything else. This soup will last for about a week in the fridge, and the flavors get even better after a day or two, so it’s a great make ahead option.

Carrot Soup with Orange, Cinnamon, and Ginger
Loosely adapted from Bon Appétit

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced (about 3/4 cup)
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup full fat coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Chopped fresh mint, for serving (optional)

Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, salt, and pepper and stir to coat. Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes. Puree the soup with an immersion blender (or in batches in a regular blender). Stir in the orange juice, coconut milk, and cinnamon. Serve garnished with the mint, if using.

Spinach Salad with Roasted Grapes and Warm Balsamic-Grape Vinaigrette

Spinach Salad with Roasted Grapes and Warm Balsamic-Grape VinaigretteI am not a picky eater, by any means. The list of foods I dislike is short and unsurprising: green bell peppers, wasabi peas, raw clams, liver. Oh, and grape jelly. I positively loathe it. Nothing ruins a perfectly good diner experience like asking the server for jam for your toast and being told that all they have are those horrible little packets of grape jelly. Why even bother?

Alas, I have a two-year-old who is a very fussy eater. And one thing he likes is whole wheat toast with butter and grape jelly. So I begrudgingly bought a big jar that lives on the door of our fridge.

Until very recently, it had never occurred to me to use it in anything I was actually going to eat myself. I used to write about jam, and I have a pretty outstanding collection of fancy spreads for my morning toast, thank you very much.

But when the idea for a hearty winter salad with spinach, pecans, and roasted grapes and red onions started percolating in my brain, I began to reconsider my personal grape jelly embargo. I knew I wanted the dressing to be warm and slightly sweet, thick but not at all creamy. Balsamic and a hint of Dijon would be good. Maybe some fresh rosemary, maybe not.

This just might be my new favorite cold weather salad. It’s quick and simple, and infinitely adaptable. You could toss some radicchio in with the spinach, or use thyme instead of the rosemary (or just leave it out). Turn it into a full meal with some roasted Portobello mushrooms or cubes of baked tofu. For non-vegans, it’s delicious with roasted or grilled chicken, or crumbles of blue cheese. You can roast the grapes and onions ahead of time and serve the salad at room temperature. Make the vinaigrette ahead, too, and then reheat gently just before serving.

Spinach Salad with Roasted Grapes and Warm Balsamic-Grape Vinaigrette
Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side salad

For the salad:
1 1/2 cups seedless red grapes
1 small or 1/2 large red onion, sliced into half moons
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary, optional
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (5-ounce) package baby spinach
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons grape jelly
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with foil, shiny side down, for easy clean up. Toss the grapes and onions with the olive oil, rosemary, and a pinch of salt and pepper and arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet. Roast until the onions are soft and beginning to char in spots and the grapes are tender and starting to brown, about 30 minutes.

Put the spinach in a large serving bowl and top with the grapes and onions. Sprinkle with the pecans.

To make the vinaigrette, combine the grape jelly and balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and whisk until the jelly is melted. Remove from the heat and whisk in the olive oil and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle over the salad and serve.

Vegetable Ribbons with Garlic and Lime

Veggie Ribbons with Garlic and LimeOh, Paula. Long ago we agreed to disagree about pretty much everything. I’m not ashamed to admit that I love vegging out in front of the Food Network. I’ll even fess up to clogging our DVR with episodes of The Barefoot Contessa, Giada at Home, and even (gulp) The Pioneer Woman. But you and I have just never been on the same page.

Who would have thought you had even one vegan-friendly recipe? Of course there was the small matter of swapping olive oil for the butter. Then I added a pinch of red pepper flakes. Finally, I cut back on the cooking time so my veggies would be crisp-tender.

I have to admit, the results were delicious. This would be a great weeknight side with veggie or bean balls (or meatballs). I devoured the bowl in the picture with some crusty bread for lunch. The parsley was lovely, but mint or cilantro would also be terrific.

I’m not saying we’re on track to become BFFs, but I guess in the spirit of the holidays we can call a ceasefire. Maybe veggies can build a bridge?

Vegetable Ribbons with Garlic and Lime
Serves 4 as a side
Adapted from Paula Deen

3 large carrots, peeled
2 large zucchini
2 large yellow squash
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1 small or 1/2 large lime)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Using a Y-peeler, cut the carrots, zucchini, and squash into ribbons.

Heat the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the garlic just begins to sizzle, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the vegetable ribbons and season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing with tongs, until just crisp-tender, about 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and toss with the lime juice and parsley.

Improved Maple Leaf Cocktail

Improved Maple LeafI can’t believe it’s been almost five years since I wrote my first cookbook! I’m so proud of it, but sometimes I wish I could go back and tweak some of the recipes. One of the things I’ve quickly come to love about blogging is how alive this site feels. It’s always growing and changing, and nothing is set in stone (or ink). I can revise and make edits whenever I want. That ability is incredibly freeing, as both a writer and a recipe developer.

One of my favorite recipes from The Boozy Baker is for the Maple Leaf cocktail. Alex and I make it all the time; we joke it’s our house drink. It’s really easy: In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine 2 ounces of bourbon, half and ounce of lemon juice, and half an ounce of maple syrup. Shake and strain over ice. It’s perfectly delicious, but a couple of weeks ago I was playing around with it a little bit and the results were even better. Now what?

The only thing to do is share it with you here. I’m calling this the Improved Maple Leaf, and I hope you love it as much as we do. It’s a stiff drink! We only have one apiece, and sip them slowly. Sometimes, to make mine last longer, I top it off with club soda. After a torturously long bedtime routine (Owen’s currently involves debating between the Mickey toothbrush and the Elmo toothbrush, drinking a glass of ice water, reading and rereading the same lift-the-flap book multiple times, saying good night to his lamp, plus three hideously off-key lullabies) this is often our sweet reward. You gotta keep your eyes on the prize.

Improved Maple Leaf
Makes 1 drink

2 ounces bourbon
1 1/2 ounces apple cider
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce maple syrup
Two dashes bitters
Twist of orange or lemon zest, thin slice of apple, or maraschino cherry, for garnish
Club soda (optional)

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the bourbon, apple cider, lemon juice, and maple syrup and shake for 30 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and add the bitters. Garnish with the orange or lemon zest, the apple, or cherry, and serve. To make the drink last longer, top with some club soda after you’ve cleared some room.

No Bake Gluten-Free Vegan Apple Crumb Bars

No-Bake Vegan Gluten-Free Apple Crumb BarsYou guys, vegan desserts are HARD. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve made a polenta cake, sea salt brownies, pecan squares, raspberry pudding, and two previous renditions of these apple crumb bars, all of which I deemed not good enough. Fortunately, Alex’s coworkers were more than happy to take the rejects off our hands!

It’s important to me that the desserts I offer up here are not only delicious, but also markedly healthier than non-vegan versions. The first time I made these bars, I straight up replaced butter with coconut oil. The results were yummy, and coconut oil is healthier than butter, but still…it was a lot of oil. The bars were no lighter than the non-vegan original version.

It’s also important to me that my ingredient lists are short and supermarket-friendly. I have a two-year old, people. I don’t have time to hunt down hemp seeds, or any kind of tofu other than the basic one they stock at my local Stop & Shop. Medjool dates are a common ingredient in vegan desserts. Sticky and sweet, they can stand in for both sugar and (some) butter. They are not that hard to find (any Whole Foods should have them), but I wondered if I could replace them with something even more ubiquitous. As it turns out, the humble prune worked wonders. At long last, I have the no-bake vegan apple crumb bars I set out for weeks ago. And they are gluten-free to boot!

You can use almonds in place of the pecans. This crust will vary slightly depending on how moist and plump your prunes are. If it feels too dry, add an additional tablespoon of coconut oil. It’s essential to refrigerate these bars before you cut them, and also to store them in the refrigerator. They need to be chilled in order to remain firm. They are delicious for dessert drizzled with unsweetened coconut cream, but I’m happy to report they also make a totally acceptable breakfast.

No Bake Gluten-Free Vegan Apple Crumb Bars
Makes 9 large or 16 small bars
Crust and topping loosely adapted from Oh She Glows

For the crust and topping:
1 1/2 cups whole pecans (toasted is great but untoasted is just fine)
1 1/2 cups gluten-free oats (you can also use regular old fashioned oats)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup packed chopped prunes
1/4 cup coconut oil (solid, not melted)

For the filling:
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and finely diced
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water

Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with foil so that it extends up the sides. Line the bottom of the pan with a square of parchment paper.

To make the crust and topping, combine the pecans, oats, salt, and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Add the prunes and pulse until well combined. Add the coconut oil and pulse until the mixture looks clumpy and moist. Pinch some between your fingers–it should feel tacky, not sandy. If it is too dry, add an additional tablespoon of coconut oil. Transfer slightly more than half the mixture to the prepared pan, reserving the rest. With clean hands, firmly and evenly press it into the bottom of the pan.

To make the filling, combine the apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch and water to blend. Pour over the apples. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the mixture is thick and the apples are soft but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes.

Spread the apple filling evenly over the crust in the pan. Crumble remaining pecan mixture over the apples and press it in gently. Transfer the pan to the refrigerator and chill until very firm, at least 4 hours.

Using the foil as handles, lift the whole piece out of the pan and cut into bars. Store bars in the refrigerator.