Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bonbons (Vegan)

Vegan dessert. Prior to becoming a vegetarian, the very idea struck fear in my heart. What is dessert without dairy? In high school, a well-intentioned vegan friend of mine had subjected me to a slough of rather tasteless, artless vegan desserts, and it has taken years to undo the damage.

When I suffered a five week stint as a vegan, the only thing that was an actual challenge, besides eating meals out, was finding vegan sweets that could compare to their dairy-stuffed counterparts. Even living in Los Angeles, a veritable haven for vegans and their desserts, I felt at a great disadvantage in the world outside my own apartment. That month I had to form an even tighter bond with my oven and stovetop. The very first vegan dessert that I made and loved was a very simple, easy, chewy, gooey chocolate chip cookie. Now longer a vegan, I still make this cookie recipe, not just because it is tasty in its own right but because, lacking eggs, I don’t have to worry about salmonella poisoning as I shovel the raw dough in my mouth.

These chocolate-dipped bonbons are dreamed up for all the other raw cookie dough lovers out there. They’re small, but the chocolate coating gives them a richness that makes eating just one a fully satisfying experience. While the original recipe for the dough calls for water to be added to the wet ingredients, I prefer substituting coffee for a more intense flavor. I also add coconut oil (solid at room temperature) to the tempered chocolate to give this bonbons a summery twist.

While the following recipe uses my vegan cookie dough, this treat could easily (though less sanitarily) be made with any eggy, buttery cookie dough. Animal-lover that I am, I like to make things cruelty-free where easily possible, but I’d fault no one for preferring the deliciousness of real animal fat.

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Very Blueberry Low-Fat Muffins

For a very long time, if a muffin didn’t have chocolate in it, then I considered it a waste of my time. While it was hard to go wrong with a muffin top no matter the ingredients, the puffy little cakes struck me as uninspired, pedestrian. If I was going to a cafe for breakfast, I was going to go big: chocolate croissant, brownie, cinnamon roll, not some lumpy, fruity, frequently stale ball of dough.

I can’t pinpoint when exactly the tides changed. I know that when I was trying to eat a little healthier, I went from one extreme to the other, switching out my chocolate chip cappuccino muffins for raisin bran. For a while I force-fed myself the things, but over time there was a shift in me. Now I want my muffins stuffed full of berries, be they raspberries or strawberries or cranberries or, best of all, blueberries.

This recipe makes fluffy, light, and not-too-sweet muffins that go well with a creamy latte or a hot cup of chai. Not only are they low in fat, but they’re low in calories, too (approximately), meaning you could easily eat two or three in a sitting without it being a diet buster. Calories aside, I won’t extol the health virtues of this muffin, since you’d have to be living under a nutritional rock to be unaware of all the benefits of blueberries. The most important thing, after all, is the flavor. (In the end, a food can be the healthiest thing in the world and not be worth eating because of a foul taste. I’m looking at you, natto.) Even my younger sister, who is an extraordinarily picky eater, was happy to get her nosh on with these muffins. If you like a subtle sweetness and a burst of fruit flavor, these muffins are more than worth a shot.

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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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Kalamata Olive and Cracked Pepper Shortbread

When I had friends from Los Angeles stop by for a couple days, I wanted to make a good impression, down to the last bite. Most of our meals we ate out, but for their last evening I thought that a homemade dinner would be more enjoyable than anything we could get at a restaurant. Exhausted from the week, I wanted to do something simple and easy to throw together.

At lunch, my two friends expressed a lack of interest in goat cheese and brie. Rather than accept their personal taste, I took it as a challenge: they weren’t going to leave my house without enjoying my two favorite cheeses. I had been waiting patiently for the perfect moment to make olive biscuits, and there it was, dropped right into my lap.

These shortbread biscuits are made much in the same way that a dessert sable is. The only difference is the savory flavor as opposed to sweet. As much as these crackers look like and crumble like a good sugar cookie, they are much better eaten with cheese and wine than ice cream and decaff coffee.

You don’t have to be a huge olive fan to enjoy them. More than anything, they’re buttery, with a spicy kick from the cracked pepper. I started out eating them smothered in an herbed goat cheese, but found that they are delicious on their own (or incorporated into a quinoa salad, like I did the next day for lunch).

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March Madness

It’s officially spring, the week of cherry blossoms have come and gone, and we’re starting to get temperatures in the 70s, yet I’m still not ready to let go of winter. I’d like to blame the couple days of rainy weather California has seen in the past few weeks and not my own desire to keep wearing my absolutely too-comfy winter coats.

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Salted Caramel Ice Cream

When I first started seeing salted caramel treats popping up around LA, I loved it. I’ve always been a salty-sweet fan — as I kid, I’d sprinkle salt on top of my chocolate chip waffles — so the salted caramel trend was right up my alley, and I felt a bit special for being “in” on it. Now, it’s everywhere, and starting to feel a bit played-out. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to be an elitist, especially about something so tasty. It’s more that I think a dash of sea salt and a squirt of caramel onto any dessert dish is a cheap way of saying, “I’m hip to the culinary trends,” when you’re actually saying quite the opposite.

Still, the popularity of salted caramel speaks volumes about the power of the actual flavor profile. It’s popular for a reason, and that reason is that it is absolutely, undeniably delicious.

If you like salted caramel, homemade salted caramel ice cream is a must. It’s smoother than any gelato and richer than any caramel ice cream you can buy in a carton. If the final product isn’t salty enough for you, do like they do at Sweet Rose Creamery in Santa Monica: ditch the chocolate sprinkles and toss a pinch of sea salt over your ice cream instead.

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Bittersweet Chocolate Milanos

I frankly don’t trust anyone who hasn’t, at some point in her life, eaten a whole pack of Pepperidge Farm cookies by herself in one sitting. After finishing my first serious paper at college, I unwound by buying a bag of Captiva Dark Chocolate Brownie cookies and eating every last one of them before dinner.

Still, there’s nothing better than a homemade cookie. No matter how convenient the Farm is, especially for a college student, you really can’t beat something fresh out of the oven.

As I ate a few Milano cookies last week, I thought to myself, “… I could make these.” There’s really not much to them: a thin layer of dark chocolate sandwiched between two sugar cookies, and that’s it. They say the best plans are the simplest ones, and that’s certainly true for this little treat. Now the homemade kind may not be quite as uniform as the real thing (after all, I don’t have an industrial cookie-making plant), but it’s the taste that counts, and in that regard these a more than a fair match for the Pepperidge originals.

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