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chocolate hazelnut grahams + lowbrow snacks


This gluten free cookie recipe has lowbrow-inspired roots despite its sophisticated looks and healthy-happy ingredients. Sort of shamefully lowbrow. Confession time is upon us. Deep breath.

We took a trip over to the USA last week (I live super close to an American border crossing-hey neighbours!) and brought back a certain brand of cookies, featuring certain little worker elves occupying a suspiciously chocolate-equipped treehouse/cookie factory. These were tagging along with some bottles of my favourite kombucha to keep it all in balance of course. Anyway these cookies were good. Too good. Thick cut graham-like crackers covered in fudge-y chocolate. Very simple goodness flavour-wise that unfortunately DID NOT translate to a simple ingredients list. Hydrogenated whatnots, probably 5 forms of sugar, the white flour, preservatives etc. Oy. And I ate how many? Too many.

Since I’m not one to dwell on less-than-virtuous eating incidents (I eat for pleasure first and always), I started dreaming up a healthier version of this crack-cookie as it were. There would be coconut oil for fat, hazelnuts for body (and to give off a bit of a nutella vibe), wholesome sweeteners, healthy garnishes for fun deliciousness and the like.

And it all worked out! I made my own hazelnut and coconut flour/meal in the blender and threw the dough together in the food processor. You could grind the flour in the food processor too, saving yourself some extra dishes/appliance usage. When grinding the nuts/coconut, you’e looking for the consistency of almond meal. A few stops short of nut butter does the trick. It should hold together when you pinch it, but still feel dry.

The dough will actually seem like a failure right from the outset. You’ll wonder how this sticky goop will become cookies-cookies that will actually be pleasant enough to eat at that. Flatten it out, stick it in the oven, maybe cross your fingers a bit and whoa! Spiced vanilla hazelnutty-molasses goodness that will take a bath in chocolate and get all smothered in sea salt, chopped nuts and cacao nibs. Oh. Yes. Protein, healthy fat, grain-free, sugar-free, satiating, vegan, tasty pretties… all that good stuff for wholesome, fancy-lady tea time. Sorry sweet little elves. Today, I win.


chocolate covered hazelnut grahams
serves: makes around 12 or more
notes: These will not taste exactly like graham crackers! They’re a bit more pillowy, nutty and complex.  Having said that, these would be amazing with a smooshy, molten marshmallow on top.

grahams:
1 cup + 2 tbsp hazelnut flour (roughly 1 cup of nuts ground in the food processor)
1/4 cup ground coconut meal (throw it in with the hazelnuts to make life easy)
1 tsp arrowroot powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of sea salt
1 tbsp maple syrup (or honey, agave, brown rice syrup etc)
scant 3 tbsp coconut oil, room temperature to cool (it should be soft, slightly cool, but not at all liquid)
1.5 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp non-dairy milk
splash of vanilla extract

chocolate ganache:
1/3 cup non-dairy milk
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate (chips or chopped from a bar)
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp coconut oil

garnishes:
chopped hazelnuts
flaky sea salt
cacao nibs
etc (crushed lavender buds would be dope)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place a rack in the middle of the oven.

After you’ve processed the hazelnuts and coconut, add the arrowroot powder, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and sea salt. Pulse a couple times to combine.

Add the maple syrup, molasses, coconut oil, non-dairy milk and vanilla to the dry ingredients. Place the lid back on and pulse until the dough starts to form a solid mass. If it isn’t clumping together, add hazelnut or coconut meal in tablespoon increments until it starts forming a ball as you pulse the machine.

Remove the blade and scrape the dough onto a piece of parchment paper. Place a big sheet of saran wrap on top of the dough and flatten the dough out with a rolling pin. You want it fairly thin, around a 1/4 inch thickness. Transfer the parchment sheet with the dough to a baking sheet large enough to hold it all. Bake for about 12 minutes or until edges are quite brown and dough feels dry. Cool completely.

Cut giant graham into whatever size cookies you like, removing the super brown edges.

Make the ganache: In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk to a boil. Lower it to a simmer and add the chocolate chips, maple syrup and coconut oil. Whisk until chocolate is fully melted, about 3 minutes. Keep warm until ready to use.

Line another baking sheet with parchment. Using a small spatula as a chocolate dry-walling tool of sorts, brush the ganache onto the cut grahams. Lay them on the parchment-lined sheet and garnish with whatever you like while they’re still wet. Repeat with remaining grahams. Place in the fridge to set chocolate more rapidly.

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Kathryn20/09/2012 - 8:07 am

Why am I at work when I could be at home making these?!? It’s everything that I love in a cookie.

Emma20/09/2012 - 8:28 am

It just shows your normal making an unhealthy choice once in a while! Your cookies look gorgeous. Just bought some hazelnuts so these have risen to the top of the “to-make” list!

Ashlae20/09/2012 - 8:38 am

I know those elves and their cookies all too well (I used to be a huge fan of the ones that look like wheels, with squiggleys on top).

Love these, and the thought of eating them during fancy lady tea time. But I really want to dunk one in my morning coffee.

sarah20/09/2012 - 10:42 am

Gorgeous!! I wish I would have seen these an hour ago – I have a friend coming over in 15 who can’t eat gluten or dairy, and I was just racking my brain what I could make her. This, of course. Maybe we can make them together.

Also, I love your honesty. Makes me feel a teensy bit better about that bag of combos that somehow makes it’s way into our car on road trips. {ha}

Shanna20/09/2012 - 10:51 am

I am so impressed!

Emma @ Poires au Chocolat20/09/2012 - 10:56 am

These look so delicious. I have no idea what the originals you bought are like (and actually, have never tasted an authentic graham cracker) but I definitely want to try these. It’s so much fun recreating and updating treats you can buy.

Stacy20/09/2012 - 1:30 pm

This is wonderful. Excellent work health-ing up a lowbrow treat, and, I imagine, improving it in the process — I can’t imagine the elves would ever use lavender buds…

Kasey20/09/2012 - 3:25 pm

Love the feeling of success when I can recreate something super tasty (and usually super unhealthy!). These look positively divine, lady!

Courtney20/09/2012 - 3:51 pm

Oh those tricky elves and their cookies. I would go for your version hands-down, any day of the week. These look awesome and now I’m drooling all over my keyboard… Guess I’ll have to make these this weekend!

Jess20/09/2012 - 5:05 pm

Beautiful as always! Love the molasses incorporated into the biscuit, gorgeous. Could easily munch away on these with a dandy cuppa. Nom nom.

Heidi @foodiecrush20/09/2012 - 8:11 pm

I’ve never tried making my own grahams, but if it involves crack, and a healthier version than the dirty elf version, I’m down! Thank you!

la domestique20/09/2012 - 9:41 pm

Those elves totally put crack in the cookies! I am not gluten free, but your chocolate covered hazelnut grahams look friggin delicious!

brighteyedbaker22/09/2012 - 4:45 pm

Looks like a yummy recipe! I don’t think you can go wrong with that classic combo of hazelnuts and chocolate. Kudos to you for making a guilty-treat not so guilty. :)

Sophie22/09/2012 - 5:41 pm

I’m trying to quit chocolate and you are making it impossible! These beauties look absolutely delicious!

Elizabeth23/09/2012 - 10:29 am

These sound seriously wonderful. I was bracing for some kind of earth-shattering confession, so “I’m human” was a funny surprise (I think we’ve all accidentally done our time with something by those elves. I recently did battle with a box of Cheese-Its and managed to only eat three). Sadly, I’m allergic to hazelnuts, but I wonder if there’s a way to make this with coconut and pumpkin seeds, or both?

Barbara | Creative Culinary23/09/2012 - 10:32 am

These are gorgeous…and despite having to field the question a MILLION times, I’m not a Keebler, I’m a Kiebel and just as well. I’ll scarf some store bought cookies in a pinch but I don’t look at the ingredients; it would ruin the experience. I would rather have these in a heartbeat!

victoria23/09/2012 - 1:38 pm

Have you ever attempted making your own kombucha? It is super cheap and super satisfying!

Laura24/09/2012 - 9:58 am

Victoria,

I want to try making it for sure! I definitely spend too much money on my addiction to kombucha at this point :)

-L

Jacqui24/09/2012 - 8:34 pm

I haven’t had one of those cookies in year’s! I like the sound of yours much better though : )

Cookie and kate25/09/2012 - 11:25 pm

I’d forgotten how tasty those little elf cookies are until now. Yours look way better, though!

Kelsey26/09/2012 - 12:25 pm

Elves ain’t got nothing on this stuff ;)

Katie @ figgyandsprout05/10/2012 - 8:38 am

I’m dying to try these! Sounds like the perfect project for the weekend. They look absolutely gorgeous, Laura :)

[...] Chocolate Covered Hazelnut Grahams [...]

Melissa26/03/2013 - 11:45 am

I have a batch of these cooling right now, have tasted the end pieces and OH MY GOD! They are delicious all by themselves without anything added to them! Thanks so much for this gorgeous recipe – I will use it many times!

[…] Adapted from The First Mess […]

[…] her culinary school and restaurant endeavours, combined.  I just loved her gluten free and vegan chocolate hazelnut grahams. And then there’s my favourite, Aran Goyoaga, allergic to gluten, she began […]

sweet corn + caramelized tomato farrotto


Guys, summer isn’t over and I’m going to prove it to you. How? Over a healthy bowl of farro risotto with tons of sweet corn, juicy caramelized tomatoes and fresh herbs. Our garden is exploding with goodness right about now. Pumpkin and apples can just wait.

Much as I love the season of turning leaves, blushing summer fruits and full flavour veggies are at their peak in my little corner of southern Ontario. Time to get virtuous with the resources and do the right thing: eat it all. Pinterest is kind of exploding with pumpkin spice things and braises, hot toddies, pictures of cold mist washing over mountains, wool sweaters, ruggedly handsome dudes in puffer vests, ankle booties and the like. Resistance. Peaches. Iced tea. Summer. Forever.

I won’t deny the cool breeze floating around in the evenings though. This recipe is made for that coolness, that whisper of things to come. It’s a warm and hearty bowl-food kind of recipe that makes you feel good just knowing that it’s going to come about. There is toasty farro stirred in a risotto style with a bunch of summer veg, shallots, a heavy drizzle of white wine and the sweetest, most delicious thing ever: corn stock. Stock made from corn cobs. So simple. So game-changing.

September brings out the “clean it up, get resourceful, and move the hell on” side of me. It’s something fierce. I’ve been working a lot, so spending that precious leisure time in a cloud of clutter was making me somewhat grumpy. It was time to remedy that in a serious way. Along with getting all enterprising and such on those corn cobs, I’ve been on a bit of a clean-up tear.

There was a slight closet purging, major recycling efforts, a pantry consolidation (“Oh neat there’s farro in the back of this cupboard!“), a solemn promise to hold a yard sale (and an equally solemn promise to be more discerning on kitchen and book-related purchases) etc. How have I amassed so much stuff? It’s overwhelming, but I’ve been taking some giant steps, making it all happen and feeling way better. Room to breathe and move around. It feels good, friends. Like a shinier, sparklier, less hindered version of yourself emerging. All that and a bowl of farrotto. Summer can stick around a while longer as far as I’m concerned.


sweet corn and caramelized tomato farrotto
serves: 4
notes: If you don’t want to wait for a homemade corn stock to come into fruition, using a pre-fab vegetable stock should yield some decent results. You could go for the traditional arborio rice if you have a gluten allergy too. Oh, and a pro tip: Have everything at the ready on the counter beside your stove once you’re about to start stirring it all up.

4 cobs of corn, kernels removed and set aside and cobs saved
1 cup of farro, soaked for 30 minutes
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 tsp + 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
1 large shallot, fine dice
1 sprig of thyme, leaves minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 sprig of basil, leaves finely sliced (or dill, parsley, any other leafy herb)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted and lightly chopped
optional: big handful of grated pecorino cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Make the corn cob stock: place the cobs in a large pot. Add a few dices of celery, onion and carrot if you like. Pour 6 cups of water into the pot over the vegetables. Place pot on the stove and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Strain stock through a sieve. Return stock to the large pot. Keep warm. There should be about 4-5 cups-worth.

While stock is simmering, line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Place whole grape tomatoes on the paper. Toss tomatoes with the 1 tsp of oil and some salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, or until slightly browned and shriveled. Remove and set aside.

Drain and rinse the farro, trying to remove as much water as possible. Set aside. Start simmering the strained corn cob stock on a back burner.

Heat the 2 tbsp of oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the diced shallot and minced thyme. Saute until the shallots are translucent and browning slightly. Add the drained farro. Stir it around until it’s thoroughly coated in oil and starting to smell toasty. Add the wine. It should bubble up quite a bit. Stir the farro around until most of the wine is absorbed.

Add a 1/2 cup of corn stock. Stir the grains around until most of the liquid is absorbed. Repeat this process with the stock until the farro is just about cooked. I added about 3 cups of stock (in 6 additions) before I got to this stage. When you bite into a kernel of farro, it should yield to the tooth, but still have a bit of chew.

Add the corn kernels and one more 1/2 cup of stock. Stir vigorously to activate the starch in the corn. Once most of the stock is absorbed and the mixture appears creamy. Add the roasted tomatoes, basil, pine nuts and pecorino (if using). Season with salt and pepper and stir gently to combine.

Serve hot with more chopped basil on top if you like.

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Kathryn12/09/2012 - 1:06 am

Firstly, I think farrotto is probably the best word I’ve heard in a long time. Love. And secondly, yes, I so know what you mean about stripping back, cleaning up and moving forwards. I am itching to get home after a few weeks away to start that very process.

Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar12/09/2012 - 7:05 am

This is simply beautiful!

Elizabeth A.12/09/2012 - 9:04 am

Wow, Laura, this is a game changer. The corn broth, the caramelized tomatoes, and I love that you call it farrotto

Ailyn12/09/2012 - 9:28 am

Great recipe, love the photos and keep the Resistace!!!!

kelsey12/09/2012 - 11:21 am

Holla!!

Eileen12/09/2012 - 1:31 pm

That looks perfect for the end of summer harvest! I love risottos made with other grains–barley is the favorite at our house, but it sounds like farro is a top contender too. :)

Erin12/09/2012 - 4:06 pm

So glad I have a fellow corn/summer supporter! I super love the corn cob broth- I’ve added cobs to simmer soups before but never thought to make broth. Perfect!

Sarah B.12/09/2012 - 4:55 pm

Laura, this looks so bomb and so flavorful. You captured the beautiful colors and essence of a transition in this dish perfectly. Party!

Hannah13/09/2012 - 12:19 am

Love this! My husband hails from Amish country (though he himself is not … ) where corn stock is a. big. deal. !! It is in our wedding cookbook. We love it. This application is perfect – like you, we are experiencing an explosion of tomatoes right now.

That said, there’s no resisting a ruggedly handsome man in a puffer vest. Even in summer.

Lindsay16/09/2012 - 8:27 am

I’m with you: long live summer! I’m not ready to retreat into fall quite yet. This recipe looks divine!

Vegan Corn Risotto | Coco & S17/09/2012 - 7:55 pm

[...] made this recipe from The First Mess last night. It worked out very well. As per usual with vegan recipes, we manages to sneak in some [...]

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[...] Delicious farrotto! [...]

beans + rice toss with spicy roasted almond salsa

The beans in this recipe are not so typical and neither is the salsa. It’s different. Good-different. I purchased the Mexico issue from Saveur a while ago, read through it in about an hour and was so inspired by the flavours, colours, stories and intricacies of cuisine brought forth. Rick Bayless, one of my favourite chef personalities, has a fantastic piece in it describing the culinary landscape of the country. I find inspiration all around pretty regularly, but this is whole ‘nother level kind of stuff.

String beans usually get the steam-and-serve-on-the-side treatment so I was pretty stoked to get weird with them in this dish. Summertime makes us rich in this particular vegetable and since the heat is just raging on (I’m not ready to even contemplate pumpkin’s existence yet), I’m using them up.

I spent some time in more rural parts of Mexico when I was a teenager. I don’t remember eating anything exactly like this, but the boldness of the flavour, its vibrance and colour, the simple goodness of it, really brought me back to those quieter nights away from the hotspots. Warm tortillas scooping up homemade delicacies. Simple sweets that you only needed a teeny bit of. I can still see the sprawling, bare landscape and the small houses dolled up with strings of lights from all the way out here.

So anyway, there was a page in the issue on salsa called Special Sauce, describing the ubiquitous condiment as “an endless journey.” I was drawn in immediately. There’s a pretty typical formula we think of when we hear “salsa” in North America, but in its home country, the varieties that span the varying landscapes are in the thousands. Every home, every community, climate, state etc. makes it differently according to what is available and what particular food application is going to come about. Some types are universally used throughout the country, but this riff on a fried peanut-based salsa is more popular in and around Chiapas.

We didn’t have any peanuts, but almonds are always plentiful here and I love them paired with green beans. That combination is classic for a reason. The time had come to roast them to the edge of burnt with some hot peppers from the garden and then grind the whole mess up with oil, lime, salt and garlic. I toss some blanched beans and fragrant brown rice in that rich, fiery paste and top it off with more toasted nuts, soft and cooling goat cheese and fresh lime zest. It’s crunchy, fresh, rich, toasty, creamy and fairly hot. It’s wonderful. So much variety and influences on one plate taking you everywhere at once.


beans + rice toss with spicy roasted almond salsa and goat cheese
serves: 4
notes: This recipe makes more than enough salsa. It combines pretty perfectly with any cooked protein you could scheme up. Also, I used two cherry hot peppers because that’s what we have out back. They aren’t crazy hot, so adjust the recipe accordingly to what you have/how fiery you want it.

salsa:
1/2 cup almonds
2 small hot peppers
1 large clove of garlic, un-peeled (or 2 regular ones)
zest of 1/2 a lime (zest the whole thing and save the rest for garnishing the dish at the end)
juice of a whole lime
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
fat pinch of salt

salad:
1 lb string beans, tough ends removed
3/4 cup cooked brown rice
additional toasted almonds
big handful of crumbled goat cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F

Place the almonds on a small, parchment-lined baking sheet. Place the hot peppers and garlic on a separate parchment-lined sheet. Put both sheets in the oven. Roast almonds for about 12 minutes or until very brown and toasty. Continue roasting peppers and garlic for another 12 minutes, or until shrivelled and browned/blackened. Remove from the oven to cool.

Save for a small handful, place all of the almonds in a food processor. Remove the stem from the hot peppers and the skin from the garlic. Add these to the food processor along with the lime zest, juice, grapeseed oil and salt. Pulse until a smooth (but still textured) paste forms. Scrape out of the food processor and set aside.

Set up a large bowl with some ice in it for shocking the beans when they come out of the hot water. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium heat. Add a good pinch of salt and dump the trimmed beans in. Simmer until beans are crisp-tender, about 8-9 minutes. Drain the beans and place them in the ice water. Stir them around until adequately chilled. Drain the beans and set aside.

Toss the drained beans and brown rice with half of the salsa in a large bowl until everything is thoroughly coated. Place beans and rice on your serving plate. Chop residual toasted almonds and sprinkle on top of beans and rice. Garnish with goat cheese and lime zest. Serve at room temperature.

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Laura {gourmettenyc}06/09/2012 - 4:23 pm

This looks absolutely delicious! Now I know what I’m making this weekend as soon as I pick up string beans from the market. Yum.

Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar06/09/2012 - 5:39 pm

This turned out so pretty! Love it!

Kathryn06/09/2012 - 5:58 pm

This is pretty much everything I love about food in one dish. I don’t know how you manage to do it time and time again.

sara06/09/2012 - 7:35 pm

so perfect. love big bowls of filling and nutritious foods. your photos are ridic. xo

sarah07/09/2012 - 12:17 am

Yum, yum. Your photos are just gorgeous, and this looks amazing. I love all the flavors.
Also, ‘Getting Weird with String Beans’ could be a big hit on the Food Network. Just sayin’.

Hannah07/09/2012 - 1:08 am

Well I don’t think its weird at all! Except where weird=awesome. Love the idea of almonds and hot peppers – I can see how you can cite Chiapas here, but the idea actually takes me immediately to Thailand! Peanut-pepper paste is a biggie there …with a couple drops of coconut milk of course … Anyway, you’ve got wonderful fusion going on in those weird beans. Can’t wait to try this one.

thelittleloaf07/09/2012 - 9:32 am

What an absolutely delicious dish. Light enough for the warm weather we’re experiencing in the UK but full of flavour and punchy enough to welcome in the autumn too. Delicious.

Elizabeth07/09/2012 - 9:52 am

I love these inspired flavors! This time of year almost every meal is some kind of grain and vegetable concoction, and the addition of the zesty/fiery/nutty salsa makes it all new again. Gorgeous!

Frederike07/09/2012 - 12:27 pm

To me this just sounds (and looks) delicious. It’s healthy but doesn’t seem boring at all. I think I want to give it a try!

Ileana07/09/2012 - 12:57 pm

Wow, this sounds so interesting. Can’t wait to try it!

I absolutely cannot wait to try this out. I went to the market this morning and bought all of these ingredients already (for various salads and dishes for the week)–talk about serendipity! I think I’ll throw in some pimentón (smoked paprika) too, because it is oh so good with that goat cheese…but, then again, isn’t everything?

Lindsay08/09/2012 - 10:26 am

I’m new to your blog and love, love, love it! I wish I had your garden. It sounds so divine to just run out and get a few things for a meal. And thanks for posting the almond salsa recipe. I can not wait to try it!

la domestique10/09/2012 - 1:06 pm

You’ve made me see beans in a whole new way with this post. I can’t wait to try this!

Katie11/09/2012 - 1:49 am

Woah, almond salsa? That sounds amazing! Thanks for posting this – we’ve still got green beans happening at the farmer’s market around here, so I may just have enough time to make this!

Heather11/09/2012 - 10:27 am

Such a great take on what normally comes to mind with ‘beans and rice’. Can’t wait to try this one at home!

Trail Cookies14/09/2012 - 11:44 am

[...] spicy little green bean number. A ridiculously good lemon cucumber tofu salad, that is so refreshing. Granola that tastes [...]

Becs @ Lay the table16/09/2012 - 3:46 pm

This looks incredible! Such an inventive and creative combination. I adore green beans but agree with you it’s very often just a side dish.