Nutty White Chocolate Bark

Just a week ago, the world outside my bedroom windows was dreary and rainy and grey. Seemingly overnight, Mother Nature cranked the heat up and saturated everything with color. If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was summer.

I had been mulling over the idea of throwing together some dark chocolate bark, but if the weather is any indicator, the dark chocolate ship has sailed for the time being. It’s not that I typically color-coordinate my desserts with the season–rain or shine, I’m going to eat what I want to eat–but it just seemed wrong to celebrate the real coming of spring with something 70% cocoa. White chocolate turned out to be the perfect compromise. I got to have the bark I’d been hankering for, but I also got something beautifully suited for the bright seasonal shift.

As tempting as it is to go for the kitchen sink approach in making bark, I let simplicity reign supreme with the time-tested combination of a fruit and a nut. The almonds give the bark a satisfying crunch, while the coconut lends a fruity sweetness and bit of chew. I found myself shoveling it into my mouth almost unconsciously–and I saw my dad doing the same. It’s that sweet and salty thing, a pairing practically engineered to create a near chemical dependence.

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Mediterranean-Style Quinoa Salad

As much as I’d like to mainline melted chocolate, my body does need actual nutrients on a regular basis. Fortunately, as much as I love dessert, I crave vegetables and whole grains to the same extent. After becoming a vegetarian, I was forced to give up the meat + side dish of grains + side dish of vegetables and in favor of a more complex, integrated diet in order to stay healthy and well-fed. Foods I had previously turned my nose up at quickly became diet staples. One of those foods is quinoa.

This easy quinoa salad is filling and nutrient-dense, good for a light lunch as either a main or a side. The nuttiness of the quinoa is balanced out by the acidity of the olives and artichoke hearts and the creamy cheese, making for a satisfying meal in both flavor and texture. You can make a large batch of this salad in advance and keep it in the refrigerator to eat throughout the week, or you can make just enough for a personal serving and enjoy it for a single meal.

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Chocolate Idiot Cake

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Though I was an A student all throughout school, I’ll be the first person (of many, I’m sure) to admit that I fall quite a few IQ points below Einstein. It’s not really a personal failure, from my perspective–I like to think that much gullibility and constant wonderment, and all the silliness that begets, is part of my charm. After all, nobody likes a know-it-all.

While in most respects, I think I have a pretty good palate, I’m still fairly fresh when it comes to actually working in the kitchen. Having both grown up with a mom who is not only a food writer but a fantastic cook herself and gone to a university with famously high-quality dining halls, it was only when I moved into my first apartment in my junior year of college that I needed to learn a skill or two about feeding myself. As a result, I may be 21 years old, but in cooking years, I’m still a toddler.

That’s why I am so grateful for the recipes like that for David Lebovitz’s flourless chocolate cake, lovingly nicknamed the Chocolate Idiot Cake. Flourless chocolate cakes are, across the board, quite easy, but this one is almost embarrassing in how little previous kitchen experience it requires. It garnered its name neither because it’s for people who go stupid for chocolate nor because you’d have to be an idiot not to enjoy it (though both of those would be applicable), but because even the baking equivalent of a green thumb could pull it off.

Though there are only four ingredients, this is no low-budget dessert. Rich and moist and dense, every bite of this decadent cake is a pray from a worshipper of the cult of chocolate ganache lovers. A lot of people like to use the phrase “sinfully delicious” to describe this kind of chocolate intensity, but there’s nothing naughty about it. It’s just damn good.

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Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut butter is probably my second favorite food after chocolate. My last year of college, I ate at least one spoonful a day. One of my friends told me that if I kept it up, I would become allergic to peanut butter and would never be able to eat it again–a fate worse than death, I thought. Despite the dubious science behind his claim, I switched over to almond butter for a while, but it wasn’t the same. Then I tried making my own pecan butter, which was incredible, but also an incredible hassle. Even Nutella (oh, Nutella) couldn’t hold a candle to a pure no-sugar, no-salt, no-molasses peanut butter.

The peanut butter cookie is a baking staple whether you have a peanut butter addiction or not. Do you ever hear of people going ga-ga over walnut butter cookies? No. And for good reason. Find me a nut butter cookie tastier than the peanut kind and I’ll be shocked. Until then, I’ll keep eating this flourless peanut butter cookie, which is soft with a little grainy crunch. The first time I made them, I left them in the oven too long and ended up with blackened cookies. And you know what? They were still good. That’s the power of peanut butter.

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