Whole Wheat Vegan Graham Crackers

Whole Wheat Vegan Graham CrackersDo you guys remember that episode of Friends where Rachel gets called out for saying that her favorite movie is Dangerous Liaisons when it’s really Weekend at Bernie’s? That’s what I’m like with baking cookbooks. When asked, I say that it’s Gina DePalma’s Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen. And it is a fabulous cookbook. Run, don’t walk, to the kitchen to make her ricotta pound cake and honey and pine nut tart.

But my actual favorite? Mom’s Big Book of Baking by Lauren Chattman. I know, I know, it’s so unsexy. But Lauren really nails all the basics, so this is a great book if you want a no-fail recipe for a birthday cake; any kind of muffin (I make her chocolate chip ones with cinnamon and sugar all the time); or classics from the cookie cannon, like snickerdoodles or peanut butter thumbprints. If you want to give one of her recipes a go, try this Nutella-Swirl Pound Cake.

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier this week, I’m having a moment right now with whole wheat flour. So this past Monday I whipped up a vegan variation of Lauren’s homemade graham cracker recipe. What I love about these crackers is that they’re not too sweet; they’re really almost like a biscuit. I’ve been enjoying them with a mug of tea and a little square of dark chocolate for dessert. I’m also ecstatic to report that Owen loves them! He burst into tears last night when Alex wouldn’t let him take one in the tub. (Owen won, and the graham cracker got soaked.)

Whole Wheat Vegan Graham Crackers
Adapted from Mom’s Big Book of Baking by Lauren Chattman
Makes about 16 crackers

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat the coconut oil and brown sugar together in a large bowl. Add the maple syrup, vanilla, and almond milk and beat until smooth. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed just until combined. Gather the dough together in a ball and wrap in plastic. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 days.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let stand until it’s soft enough to roll out (I refrigerated my dough overnight, and I let it stand for about an hour).

Preheat the oven to 350°F and position a rack in the middle. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the granulated sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.

On a floured work surface, roll the dough out with a rolling pin to about 1/8-inch thickness. Cut the dough into 3-inch squares (I was less than professional about this and just sort of eyeballed it). Gather the scraps together and reroll to make more squares.

Transfer the squares to the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar. Prick the crackers several times with a fork. Bake until they are light golden and slightly puffed, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

The graham crackers will keep for about a week, stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Whole Wheat Blueberry Apple Rhubarb Crisp

Whole Wheat Blueberry Apple Rhubarb CrispI don’t mean to eschew responsibility, but I swear sometimes desserts just happen in our house. I wasn’t planning to bake anything last Friday, but I had a pint of blueberries in the fridge along with a few leftover stalks of rhubarb, and there were some green apples in the fruit bowl… before I knew what I was doing, this crisp was bubbling away in the oven and the kitchen smelled amazing.

That’s the best thing about crisps, crumbles, and the like. You don’t really have to plan them, because you probably already have everything you need–and if you don’t, you can improvise. I didn’t set out to use an apple, but I didn’t have enough blueberries, so in it went–and it was delicious.

This is the first time that I used whole wheat flour in my topping, and let me tell you, I’m never going back. Why haven’t I been doing this my entire (baking) life? It imparted a nutty, toasty flavor that worked so well with the oatmeal, and was a perfect compliment to the tart, juicy filling.

The topping can be made with either butter or coconut oil (for a vegan version). Serve the crisp with sorbet, vanilla ice cream, or frozen yogurt. I baked my crisp in an 11-x-7-inch rectangular dish, but you can use any dish that holds about 6 cups. An 8-inch square pan would work, as would a deep dish pie plate.

Whole Wheat Blueberry Apple Rhubarb Crisp
Makes 6 servings

For the filling:
2 cups blueberries (about 1 pint)
2 cups diced rhubarb (2 or 3 medium stalks)
2 cups peeled, chopped tart apple (about 1 large)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon

For the topping:
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oatmeal (not quick cooking or instant)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced, or solid coconut oil

Preheat the oven to 375°F. To make the filling, toss the blueberries, rhubarb, apple, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and lemon juice together in a bowl. Transfer to a 6-cup baking dish (such as an 8-inch square, 11-x-7-inch rectangle, or a deep dish pie plate).

To make the topping, combine the whole wheat flour, oatmeal, sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse to blend. Add the butter or coconut oil and pulse until the mixture is well combined and resembles wet sand.

Scatter the topping evenly over the filling and bake until the topping is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling, 45 to 55 minutes.

Roasted Cauliflower with Romesco

Roasted Cauliflower with RomescoThe most memorable romesco I ever had was at Chez Panisse. It was in July of 2009 and Alex and I were on our way to Napa Valley for a wedding. It wasn’t my first time in Northern California, but it was my first time since food had become something that mattered to me. In fact, I was hard at work on my first cookbook, and I had lugged a printout of the manuscript across the country so I could obsessively edit and rewrite on the plane.

One night, we made a special trip to Berkeley for the sole purpose of worshiping at the alter of Alice Waters eating at Chez Panisse. Here is a picture of us. We look so young!

Chez PanisseWe sat upstairs, in the more casual dining room, and what I remember above all else is the amazing smell of the wood burning oven that drifted through the entire restaurant. I can’t recall exactly what we ordered, but I do remember a fantastic bottle of Oregon pinot noir, and the most perfectly executed plum tart–seriously, it almost brought me to tears.

And the romesco! We ordered shrimp roasted in that wood burning oven, and it was served piled high at one end of wooden plank. At the other end was a mound of smoky, nutty, brick-red romesco. I’d never had anything like it. It felt casual and elegant all at once, and you could tell that every single ingredient was of the absolute highest quality, right down to the grains of salt.

Since then, I’ve learned to make a pretty good romesco at home. This is my favorite version. For this recipe I served it with roasted cauliflower, but feel free to pair it with whatever vegetables you prefer. It also makes a fantastic dip or sandwich spread. Leftovers will keep for about a week in the fridge.

Roasted Cauliflower with Romesco
Makes 6 side dish servings
Adapted from Chow.com

For the romesco:
1 small plum tomato
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 ounces day old crusty bread (about 2 slices, or a fist-sized chunk)
1/4 cup whole raw almonds
1 cup jarred roasted red peppers, drained
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

For the cauliflower:
1 head cauliflower
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Cut the tomato in half and toss it on a baking sheet with the garlic cloves, bread, and almonds. Roast until the bread and nuts are lightly toasted, 7 to 10 minutes.

Transfer the tomato, garlic, bread, and nuts to a food processor and pulse to coarsely chop. Add the roasted red peppers, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, and smoked paprika and pulse until well combined and smooth with just a few chunks. (Romesco can be make up to a week in advance.)

To make the cauliflower, preheat the oven to 425°F. Cut the cauliflower into large florets. Toss them on a baking sheet with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, flipping the cauliflower pieces once, until tender and charred.

Serve the cauliflower with the romesco on the side.

Strawberry Lime Jalapeño Shandies

Strawberry Lime Jalapeño ShandiesYears ago, when I was just out of college and a newly minted New Yorker, I went home to Foxboro for the holidays. There was a Blockbuster (remember brick-and-mortar video stores?!) nearby, where my brother once worked, and where we rented all our movies.

When you’re 23, and live with a bunch of your friends in the city, a week in your hometown can get pretty boring. I rented a lot of videos. One night, feeling especially sophisticated and cosmopolitan, I asked the teenage clerk where I could find the Woody Allen movies.

And do you know what he said?

Who is Woody Allen?

Seriously! I mean, I know it’s Foxboro, and I know he was just a kid, but come on. You work in a video store. Woody. Allen.

I’m telling you this story because earlier this week a very similar thing happened. I had an idea to make strawberry-rhubarb lemonade, and then to mix it with a light, crisp beer to make a shandy. It would be pink and bubbly and perfect for spring. I could practically taste it.

So I went to our local fruit and vegetable store, this really cute farm-stand type place that has great produce, and also sells pumpkins in the fall and Christmas trees in the winter. And I asked the first employee I saw if they had rhubarb.

His response?

What’s rhubarb?

For real. My dream of the perfect strawberry-rhubarb cocktail faded fast. But I’ve watched enough Top Chef Quickfire challenges to know that when you can’t find a specific ingredient you need, get over it, shift gears, and make something else.

I already had strawberries and beer, so I still wanted to make shandies. But I’ve always liked strawberries better with lime  than with lemon. The lime made me think of margaritas, which made me think of jalapeño. And thus this drink was born. It’s not the one I set out to make originally, but it is still pink, still bubbly, still perfect for spring, and absolutely delicious.

Make it boozy: Add a shot of tequila. Replace the beer with ginger beer. Salt the rim of your glass.

Make it a mocktail: Swap club soda for the beer.

Make it not spicy: Leave out the jalapeño, obvi.

Strawberry Lime Jalapeño Shandies
Makes about 5 cups, enough for 8-10 drinks

4 cups water, divided
1 cup granulated sugar
1 jalapeño, chopped (leave the seeds in if you like it spicy, discard them for a milder heat–I left them in)
2 heaping cups sliced strawberries
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 6 limes)

Light-style beer, for serving (I used PBR)

In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups water, the sugar, and jalapeño. Bring to a simmer, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool. (The longer you let the mixture stand, the hotter it will get from the jalapeño. I left mine for about 45 minutes.) Strain into a pitcher, discarding the jalapeño.

Meanwhile, puree the strawberries with the remaining 2 cups of water in a blender. Pour through a fine mesh sieve into the pitcher, pressing on the solids with a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. (You should have just over 2 cups.) Add the lime juice to the pitcher and stir to combine. Chill in the refrigerator.

For each drink, fill a glass with ice. Add about 1/4-1/3 cup of the strawberry lime jalapeño mixture and top with beer.

White Bean Chimichurri

White Bean ChimichurriOwen has been napping really well recently, and I take full credit for it. Now that it’s finally warm out, I’ve been taking him to this big park by the Hudson River in Tarrytown. It has two nice play structures, but the best part is that it’s adjacent to a field of undulating hills.

We bring a ball and I make him run the hills over and over. I feel a little bad–it kind of reminds me of my track workouts in high school. But then we go home and he naps like a baby for an hour and a half.

And what did I do with that hour and a half this past Sunday? I made chimichurri (don’t worry–it didn’t take me the full 90 minutes!). We were planning to grill for the first time this season, and I wanted a sauce to accompany a huge platter of smoky, charred vegetables.

Of course, regular chimichurri is totally delicious, but it’s a rather thin sauce. I wanted something thick and creamy that I could dollop on rounds of eggplant or spread inside a grilled pepper. After rummaging through my cabinets I came up with a can of white beans.

This recipe is really like a sauce-dip hybrid. It’s absolutely delicious with grilled vegetables (and I think it would be really good with shrimp, too). You could use it as a sandwich spread, or as a perfect summer appetizer with pita chips or crudités. It will keep for about a week in the fridge.

White Bean Chimichurri
Makes about 2 cups

1 (15-ounce) can white beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup packed fresh parsley
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-4 tablespoons warm water

In a food processor, combine the white beans, parsley, garlic, red wine vinegar, oregano, salt, and red pepper flakes. Pulse until finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Drizzle in the water 1 tablespoon at a time until the chimichurri is smooth and creamy. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Asparagus and Pea Soup with Mint Pesto

Asparagus and Pea Soup with Mint PestoI have a giant celebrity chef crush on Naomi Pomeroy, who owns Beast in Portland, Oregon. I haven’t actually been to her restaurant, but a couple of years ago Alex took me to a cooking class she was teaching for my birthday. If you live in New York and have never been to De Gustibus, I highly recommend it. You get to be right up close and personal with the chefs, asking questions and tasting everything. It’s really amazing! Alex, if you are reading this, there are still tickets available for Susan Spicer and Amanda Freitag…

Anyway, the first thing Naomi made was an asparagus velouté, which is basically a fancy way of saying an incredibly rich, silky smooth soup. It wasn’t difficult to make, but there were a bunch of different components as wells as a chinois involved, so it wasn’t exactly doable on your average weeknight.

Last week I set out to make my own quick and simple version. For inspiration, I looked to one of my favorite super fast soup recipes, Ina Garten’s Spanish pea soup. I swapped asparagus for half of the peas, subbed in vegetable broth, and added a big pinch of lemon zest. Then, because I happened to have a bunch of fresh herbs on hand, I whipped up a simple mint pesto to swirl on top.

I’m totally obsessed with the results. This soup is seriously so delicious, and I love how each bowl is like a study in green. Perfect for spring. It’s flavorful enough even without the pesto, so if you don’t have the time or inclination, you can skip it. We ate this all last week with good bread, roasted tomatoes, and hummus.

Asparagus and Pea Soup with Mint Pesto
Makes 6 servings

For the soup:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped shallots
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound asparagus
1 pound (1 16-ounce package) frozen green peas
4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest

For the pesto:
1 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

To make the soup, heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute more.

Trim the tough ends from the asparagus and discard. Trim the tips and reserve. Chop the stalks and add them to the pot. Sauté until bright green and crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the peas, vegetable broth, salt and pepper and simmer 5 minutes. Add the lemon zest. Puree the soup with an immersion blender (or in batches in a regular blender).

To make the pesto, combine the mint, parsley, pine nuts, lemon juice, garlic, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.

To serve the soup, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Blanche the reserved asparagus tips for 2 minutes, then drain and rinse in cold water. Ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle with the pesto, and garnish with the asparagus tips.

Artichoke and Olive-Stuffed Portobellos

Artichoke and Olive-Stuffed PortobellosI realized there is a bit of a lack of main course recipes on this blog. I promise it’s not because I’m secretly pairing all these vegetable dishes with a cheeseburger! (Only sometimes…) No, really it’s because my favorite way to eat is to throw a few different sides together and call it a meal. If you’ve ever been to one of the Westville restaurants in New York and had their vegetable plate, you know what I mean.

But sometimes I do want a more traditional dinner. Bonus points if it’s light, vegan, and can be made largely in advance. These stuffed mushrooms fit the bill. Even though I cheated and used canned artichokes, they still feel perfectly springy and seasonal.

You can make the filling a few days in advance (honestly, I’ve eaten leftovers that have been in the fridge for basically eternity, and they were still yummy). Roast the mushrooms up to a few hours ahead, then fill them and return them to the oven to toast the panko just before serving.

A note about the panko: I use whole wheat when I can find it at the store. I wish I could say it was for health purposes, but I actually like it better because it’s a lovely golden brown color, and I just think it looks more appealing.

Artichoke and Olive-Stuffed Portobellos
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Filling adapted from Mario Batali via Smitten Kitchen

For the mushrooms:
6 large portobello mushroom caps
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the filling:
1 (15-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained
1 cup large pitted green olives
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
1 garlic clove, smashed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the topping:
1/2 cup panko (whole wheat if you can find it)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1-2 tablespoons nutritional yeast or Parmesan cheese (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400º. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Using a small spoon, scrape the gills from the mushroom caps and place them top side-down on the baking sheet. Drizzle or mist them with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until firm-tender, about 10 minutes. Cool briefly, then drain and discard any liquid from the caps. (Mushrooms can be prepared a few hours in advance.)

Meanwhile, make the filling. Combine the artichoke hearts, olives, capers, and garlic in a food processor and pulse to combine. Drizzle in the olive oil and pulse until incorporated. (Filling can be made several days in advance.)

Spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons of the filling into each mushroom cap. In a small bowl, combine the panko, parsley, and nutritional yeast or Parmesan (if using). Sprinkle the topping over the filled mushrooms. Drizzle or mist with olive oil. Return to the oven until heated through and the topping is toasted, 10 to 15 minutes.

Roasted Asparagus with Grapefruit Vinaigrette

Roasted Asparagus with GrapefruitI had a babysitter growing up who used to marvel at what a good eater I was. Evidently, as soon as she plopped me in the high chair I inhaled everything on the tray. It’s definitely true that I’ve always loved food. The only negative memory I have of it is the one time that same babysitter gave me a “bologna sandwich” that turned out to be made with olive loaf. When you’re three years old, that pretty much counts as a major trauma.

Owen, unfortunately, does not seem to have inherited my appetite. Alex recently tried to feed him some asparagus, and he basically acted like he had been poisoned. I know it’s normal, and we’ll keep trying new foods, but still. I couldn’t help remembering the first time I had asparagus, and how delicious I thought it was. My mom blanched it, tossed it with some melted butter, and–most importantly–squeezed a ton of fresh lemon juice over it just before serving.

I was thinking about my mom as I was making this dish. She is my #1 blog super fan! She’s also my food stylist. She is always bringing me new serving dishes, napkins, and placemats to use as props. Last week she gave me this platter, and I’m totally obsessed with it. It’s so pretty, and the perfect size for a side dish.

My mom loves citrus, fresh mint, and feta (which is optional in this salad–I photographed it without). Instead of blanching the asparagus, I roasted it, which brings out its sweetness and gives the tips a lovely, crunchy char. I was planning to use Marcona almonds or salted pistachios, but I couldn’t find them in the void that is my pantry cabinet. Feel free to use whatever nuts you prefer.

Happy spring!

Roasted Asparagus with Grapefruit Vinaigrette
Makes 4 side dish servings

1 pound asparagus
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large pink grapefruit
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
2 tablespoons freshly chopped mint
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Trim the ends from the asparagus and place the spears on a baking sheet. Toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Arrange in a single later and roast until bright green and tips are beginning to char, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the ends from the grapefruit and then cut away the peel. Section the grapefruit oven a small bowl, catching the juices. Transfer the sections to a separate small bowl. Whisk the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the Dijon mustard into the grapefruit juice and season with salt and pepper.

Arrange the asparagus on a serving platter. Top with the grapefruit sections, almonds, mint, and feta (if using). Drizzle with the dressing and serve.

Orange Polenta Cakes with Strawberry Balsamic Sauce

Polenta Cakes with Strawberry Balsamic SauceLast month Alex and I spent a weekend in Philadelphia, which of course included a meal at Vedge (OMG) and a trip to Reading Terminal Market, where we gorged ourselves on all the amazing food, like a pretzel-studded caramel ice cream from Bassett’s that I literally cannot stop thinking about. There’s also a lot of great shopping, and I lingered for a long time at this fancy sundry shop that had the most amazing flavored balsamic vinegars–maple, chocolate, espresso, fig, cranberry… they were super expensive, but I was this close to buying some anyway when I realized they were made in California!

Don’t you hate when that happens? You’re shopping for souvenirs, and fall in love with something, only to realize it’s not even local. When I was in middle school we went on vacation to Belize, and I remember my mom bought something (a serving dish? a scarf?) and then discovered when we got back home that it was made in China. Oh well.

So I didn’t get the vinegar. And it turns out that’s totally fine, because I figured out how to make an even better version on my own. Or rather, Joshua Bousel at Serious Eats did–this is entirely his recipe. I didn’t really change a thing, except to double all the ingredients so there would be more of it.

I know that I’m jumping the gun a bit posting about strawberries on April 1st, but honestly, I just can’t wait any longer. Also, since you’re simmering them with a bunch of other ingredients, I found that the supermarket kind did just fine.

I decided to go the brunch route with this dish, and whipped up some easy orange-scented polenta cakes to go with it. But you could really pair this sauce with anything. It would be great with grilled chicken, salmon, or pork tenderloin. You could serve it over pancakes or waffles, or stir it into yogurt. It would even work as an ice cream topper.

This is a perfect make-ahead dish. The sauce will keep for at least a week, and you can store the polenta in the fridge for a few days, and then just fry the wedges before serving.

Orange Polenta Cakes with Strawberry Balsamic Sauce
Serves 4 with plenty of leftover sauce
Sauce adapted from Joshua Bousel via Serious Eats

For the polenta cakes:
1 cup orange juice
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
All-purpose flour (for frying)
Vegetable oil (for frying)

For the sauce:
1 cup balsamic vinegar
4 cups coarsely diced strawberries
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

To make the polenta cakes, spray a 9-inch pie dish with nonstick spray.

In a medium saucepan, bring the orange juice and 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce heat to low and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is very thick, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt, vanilla, and maple syrup or honey. Spread the polenta evenly in the prepared pie dish and cool until firm, at least 1 hour. (At this point, the polenta can be covered and chilled in the refrigerator for up to two days.)

To make the sauce, bring the balsamic vinegar to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 10 minutes. Add the strawberries, sugar, salt, and lemon zest and simmer until the strawberries have softened and released their juices, about 5 minutes. Using the back of a wooden spoon, mash the strawberries against the side of the pan. Continue to simmer until the sauce is thick and syrupy, about 10 minutes. (Sauce will keep in the refrigerator for at least a week.)

To assemble and serve, preheat the oven to 200°F and line a baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup. Heat a thin layer of vegetable oil in a large, nonstick skillet.

Spread the flour on a plate. Cut the polenta into 8 wedges. Working in batches, dredge the wedges in the flour and fry until crispy and golden-brown, 4 to 5 minutes a side. Transfer the wedges to the baking sheet and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.

Serve the polenta wedges topped with the sauce.

Gluten- Dairy- and Oil-Free Chocolate Walnut Cookies

chocolate walnut cookiesMy blog is more than six months old! When I started it back in September, I wasn’t sure if I would keep it up, or if it would be something that I posted to once or twice and then let slip away, as the demands of work, motherhood, and life in general took their toll.

I have a slight tendency to be a complete Type A perfectionist. But when it came to blogging, I had to force myself to let go in order to keep going. My writing wasn’t eloquent enough? Post it anyway. Photo looks gross? Just do it. I told myself I didn’t have to be the next Joy the Baker or Smitten Kitchen—I just had to have fun.

One of the things I’ve learned along the way is how much I love not just food, but writing about cooking and teaching other people. Nothing makes me happier than hearing that one of my friends tried one of my recipes and totally loved it. Sure, it would be nice if my blog was at the top of Google searches and I had endorsement offers flooding my inbox, but truthfully, it’s enough to know that the people I love are reading along. My dad, the pickiest eater I know, really enjoyed my root vegetable slaw and lemon poppy dressing!

But lately something has been on my mind. Here’s the thing: I’m not vegan. Yes, I’m passionate about eating healthfully and reducing the amount of animal products we consume, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t devour half of my sister-in-law’s roasted duck entrée last weekend (um, on top of my own seafood pasta and a few bites of Alex’s osso buco…).

It’s been especially hard when it comes to dessert—after all, I’ve written multiple baking cookbooks! It’s no secret that I love sweets. But baking without eggs is like going for a run in flip flops: awkward, clumsy, and—to be perfectly honest—pretty much futile most of the time. There have been a bunch of amazing dishes I’ve prepared in the last few months that I’ve really wanted to share, but I hesitated because they weren’t vegan. It’s starting to feel a little disingenuous. I want this blog to feel like the real me, and to be a reflection of what I’m excited to cook and what I love to eat.

I named my blog Cheating Vegan because I really believe that you don’t have to be vegan 100% of the time in order for plant-based eating to have a positive impact on your health and on the world. So maybe my blog doesn’t have to be vegan 100% of the time, either. I want my recipes to meet three objectives: 1. They have to be doable. This means familiar ingredients and simple cooking methods. 2. They have to be healthy—or at least healthier than similar alternatives. 3. They have to be interesting and delicious.

So here we go. This is the first non-vegan recipe I’m posting. I promise this won’t be a downward spiral to chicken-fried steak and grilled cheese cronuts!

I made these cookies once before, about three years ago, and I have no idea why it took me so long to make them again. The exterior may look delicate and crisp, but inside these little bombers are moist, chewy, and intensely fudgy. The recipe is originally from the famed French pastry chef Francois Payard. I’ve changed the technique a bit (I’m too lazy to chop the nuts, so I just whirl them in the food processor). I also add a hint of espresso powder, which really intensifies the chocolate flavor.

Since these cookies are flour free and have no leaveners, like baking powder or baking soda, they would make a perfect Passover dessert. They are best within two or three days of baking, but they will keep for a week, stored in an airtight container.

Gluten- Dairy- and Oil-Free Chocolate Walnut Cookies
Adapted from Francois Payard
Makes 12 large cookies

2 3/4 cups walnut halves (9 ounces)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Position 2 racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Spread the walnut halves on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 9 minutes, until they are golden and fragrant. Let cool slightly, then transfer to the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped (about 6 to 10 one-second pulses). Don’t worry if some pieces are bigger than others.

In a large bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar with the cocoa powder, espresso powder, and salt. Whisk in the chopped walnuts. Add the egg whites and vanilla extract and beat just until the batter is moistened (be careful not to overbeat or it will stiffen). Spoon the batter onto the baking sheets in 12 evenly spaced mounds.

Bake until the tops of the cookies are glossy and lightly cracked and feel firm to the touch, 16 to 18 minutes, rotating the pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.