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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.

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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.ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • 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.ReplyCancel

  • 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}ReplyCancel

  • Shanna20/09/2012 - 10:51 am

    I am so impressed!ReplyCancel

  • 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.ReplyCancel

  • 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…ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • 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.ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • 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. :)ReplyCancel

  • Sophie22/09/2012 - 5:41 pm

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

  • 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?ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • victoria23/09/2012 - 1:38 pm

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

    • 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 :)

      -LReplyCancel

  • 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 : )ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • Kelsey26/09/2012 - 12:25 pm

    Elves ain’t got nothing on this stuff ;)ReplyCancel

  • 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 :)ReplyCancel

  • […] Chocolate Covered Hazelnut Grahams […]ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • […] Adapted from The First Mess […]ReplyCancel

  • […] 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 […]ReplyCancel

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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.

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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.ReplyCancel

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

    This is simply beautiful!ReplyCancel

  • 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 farrottoReplyCancel

  • Ailyn12/09/2012 - 9:28 am

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

  • kelsey12/09/2012 - 11:21 am

    Holla!!ReplyCancel

  • 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. :)ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • 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.ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • 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 […]ReplyCancel

  • Weekly Top 10s | 80twenty28/09/2012 - 11:54 am

    […] Delicious farrotto! […]ReplyCancel

  • Mei-Lin Ha11/05/2015 - 7:45 pm

    Looks delicious. One question: do you cook the corn before adding it to the farro or do you put it in raw? Thanks!ReplyCancel

    • Laura15/05/2015 - 3:44 pm

      You add the corn in raw! It cooks in the last little stage.
      -LReplyCancel

  • Marry15/08/2015 - 12:48 am

    Delicious! I actually used corn from the farmers market that I bought 10 days ago and it was still sweet…who would of thought? How could this recipe not be great…it is. Thank you.ReplyCancel

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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.

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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.ReplyCancel

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

    This turned out so pretty! Love it!ReplyCancel

  • 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.ReplyCancel

  • sara06/09/2012 - 7:35 pm

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

  • 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’.ReplyCancel

  • 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.ReplyCancel

  • 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.ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • Ileana07/09/2012 - 12:57 pm

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

  • 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?ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • 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!ReplyCancel

  • 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 […]ReplyCancel

  • 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.ReplyCancel

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I came out of the forest to bring you this sweet little packet of a breakfast recipe/strategy. We went up north for a few days of clean air, adventure and quiet time in the oldest provincial park in Canada. We were greeted by some gentle rain, sitting in our canoe at the entry point, looking out over the grey, foggy beauty of it all. We had woken up at 3 in the morning, drove 5 hours, listened to a lot of Springsteen (we’re on a serious Bruce tear), drank a decent amount of coffee, got the permit, the park-licensed garbage bag, the whole deal. After a 3 hour canoe/portage trip to our site, we were soaked, kind of cold, but quietly content. Being out in the world! With the force of nature all around and its miracles, getting bummed about those little struggles seems a bit silly.

The end of summer has all kind of gone along with that theme. A whole bunch of little, unassuming and wonderful things that make up the big beautiful and fill it with grace. Very simply satisfied with life at the moment.

What goes along nicely with little things that fill your life with shiny abundance? Oatmeal. Yep.

When we go on any excursion, not just the great-outdoors ones, food is my responsibility. Mark handles the fire building, wood chopping, the shelter construction, any navigation whatsoever, loading the canoe properly, lifting all the heavy things, tying our food up high in the trees at night like a pro (bears are a real deal possibility)… you get the idea. He does a lot and watching him carry on happily in that element, I couldn’t love him more.

So naturally I try to make the food aspect way good. Sure it has to be delicious, kind of easy to scheme up, slightly compact, but also crazy-fortifying. Hot oatmeal cooked over a campfire with a bit of hemp, vanilla sugar and fresh fruit on a cool woodsy morning fits the bill just right. I’m more of a steel-cut kind of gal normally, but for the sake of practicality this add-hot-water-and-stir number hits the spot and is just as tasty to boot. Sure I could have bought the little packets, but it’s crazy simple to make and ten times better. Actually.

A lot of the packaged brands include some kind of milk powder to achieve a sort of creaminess when the hot water is added. I wasn’t really all over this particular move, so I found a solution that I can deliciously live with. Justin’s and Artisana brands make some awesome nut butters in tiny packets for healthy peeps on the go. It’s brilliant. I boil up some water, dump in the pre-bagged oat goodness, add the packet of nut butter, stir stir stir over the fire, add some chopped fruit and voila. Tasty breakfast.

This is a pretty smart little strategy for the work week too. It’s easy enough to have access to a jar of almond butter (or whatever you like) and some hot water at the workplace so why not? Make up five little bundles of the good stuff on a day off, make sure no one’s snagging spoonfuls of your nut/seed butter at work and you’re all good for healthy, happy morning meals.

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do-it-yourself instant oatmeal with nut butter
serves: for 1 packet/serving
notes: Use whatever flaked grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruit etc you like. This recipe is just an example of what I made for our little trip.

in the packet:
1/3-1/2 cup flaked grains (I used oats and rye)
2 tbsp seeds or chopped nuts (I used hemp and chia seeds)
2 tbsp dried fruit (I used dried sour cherries)
2 tsp dry sweetener of your choice (I had some vanilla sugar around, this amount may vary if you’re using stevia or something more concentrated)
teeny pinch of salt

to serve:
2 tbsp-1/4 cup boiling water (depending on how watery/sticky you want it)
1 tbsp nut/seed butter of your choice (I used raw walnut butter)
cut up fresh fruit (we had glorious end-of-summer peaches)

Place the oats, seeds/nuts, dried fruit, sweetener and salt in a bag or tupperware container of some type. When ready to serve, dump contents into serving dish of your choice.

Pour the boiling water on top and add the nut butter. Stir it all up until thoroughly combined. Place chopped fruit on top and serve.

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  • Sofia30/08/2012 - 2:54 pm

    Ahh..beautiful pictures! I went on my first Algonquin portaging trip this summer and also being the one to take on the food part of the adventure, struggled to find the balance between light-weight, non-perishable, healthy, filling, etc… we ended up with a lot more meat than I could handle (though I have to say that the fire cooked bacon was incredible). I’m curious about what other stuff you guys ate – need some ideas on how to up my game for next time, especially in the veggie department.ReplyCancel

  • Michelle30/08/2012 - 3:43 pm

    I’m going to have to come camping with you guys sometime, because Joe has made it pretty clear he is NOT into it. I have so many positive memories of cooking over a fire on canoe trips: stir fries, flat breads, scrambled eggs with tons of veg, rice n beans, something called hawaiian salami…

    And this recipe is bomb. This is like the winter counterpart to my summer granola!ReplyCancel

  • Lena30/08/2012 - 3:46 pm

    Oh I love this idea. Not just for outdoors but for my breakfasts at home, too. Being able to just add one thing to a pan instead of taking out all the grains and nuts and seeds and making a huge mess in the kitchen in the morning could really make me get used to eating oatmeal more often. thanks for sharing.ReplyCancel

  • Becky30/08/2012 - 7:09 pm

    Brilliant idea for camping and traveling! Thanks for the post.ReplyCancel

  • kelsey30/08/2012 - 9:47 pm

    Camping rules.ReplyCancel

  • Ashlae30/08/2012 - 10:36 pm

    I really want to make this, but I refuse to do so in my well-equipped kitchen. That just wouldn’t be right. Must find time to camp. Or, call in sick to work. And class.ReplyCancel

  • Kathryn31/08/2012 - 1:55 pm

    This is an inspired idea and would work just as well in my poorly equipped office kitchen as when camping (although it may not be quite as fun…)

    Gorgeous pictures too.ReplyCancel

  • Hannah03/09/2012 - 12:53 pm

    Bruce! Oh be still my beating heart. (And don’t you think he seems like he might be an oatmeal kind of guy, himself?) Anyway, moving right along … my little ones love make-your-own instant oatmeal, and I have been using the recipe from The Homemade Pantry – I am now super curious to try this ‘raw’ version, since THP version has you toast some of the oats and then food process them … not toasting them is obviously about a thousand times simpler. (Her version does achieve some creaminess, though, without gross milk powders or anything – I think because of the powdery bits of toasted oats??).

    The nut butter addition is inspired … I often add almonds to breakfast grains, and my kids usually eat around them. Nut butter here we come.ReplyCancel

  • Kathryne09/09/2012 - 8:53 pm

    This is so smart, Laura! I’m glad you got out-of-doors; I’ve been feeling rather confined indoors lately. Gotta get out and explore this new city, if not farther.ReplyCancel

  • sunidhi15/09/2012 - 1:28 pm

    Hi, This looks very yummy and mouth watering. definitely i will try and let u know. you have described it really good anyone can follow it . thanks for a wonderful recipe.ReplyCancel

  • […] shoes at Mark’s recommendation, worried about staying hydrated, made up little batches of homespun instant oatmeal, packed a Malcolm Gladwell book for extra lightness and some other things. We woke up way before […]ReplyCancel

  • kathy30/03/2016 - 4:59 pm

    I use freezer bags, and water to the bag, mix and eat there is no clean up. I have learned that it will not store well over long time.ReplyCancel

pin it!pin it!
Having worked in restaurants of all levels and types for a number of years, I can tell you with absolute certainty exactly what most 20 to 50-something year old ladies gravitate towards on a menu at lunch time without fail. Ready? It’s a leafy green salad with a big old piece of (usually animal-sourced) protein on top cooked in a minimal amount of fat, served with an oil and vinegar-based dressing, other vegetables etc. And if that option isn’t on the menu, there are inquiries that hint around the possibility of one being made anyway. If answered in the (very accommodating) affirmative, the next question/demand is usually along the lines of “Oh but I need the dressing ON THE SIDE **woman’s hand expressively pushes imaginary carafe of dressing to the side for clarification**.” Right, got it.

Fancy lady salads.

As much as I despise dealing with peeps ordering this kind of thing, I actually adore those make-it-a-meal-kind of affairs in a bowl (totally conflicted over a salad–I know, I know). Lots of green leafies, beans, nuts, seeds, a handful of cooked grains, vegetables, good pinches of salt and pepper, maybe some pecorino or crumbly goat cheese for a salty tang. And in this version, some lightly charred and garlicky balsamic tofu on top. Oh yes.

I always kind of forget about tofu and come back to it, wondering where it had been for the last little while. It’s not something I buy/cook frequently. I’m pretty particular on the preparation methods I apply to this protein and even more persnickety on what brand/types I’ll buy. So here are some things I’ve learned through trial and error and a fair bit of reading.

Buy organic and local. I mean it on this one.
Choosing organic soy foods does point to one obvious thing: you’re avoiding pesticide consumption and radiated foods. This practice also points to one much larger thing: you’re saying no to a largely genetically modified crop with your dollars, snubbing the efforts of agro-giants like Monsanto. What efforts? Well there’s a lot pertaining to deforestation in the amazon, putting decades-old family farms out of business, instilling fear into the economically sensible act of seed-saving, dousing those roundup-ready crops in pesticide, depleting soil quality… I could go on and on. I hate being preachy, but a simple course of action means a lot here. Worthy of note: the price difference is marginal when switching from conventional to organic tofu.

Is tofu even healthy?
There’s been some hoopla surrounding soy-based products and soy in general over the last few years. I’ve read a lot of alarmist literature on this particular food, but the reality is that it has been consumed for hundreds of years in many parts of the world. Studies are frequently conflicting (soy foods cause hot flashes, no wait soy foods prevent hot flashes etc) and there is always a new, very strong opinion. I’m no authority on whether consuming soy is right for you or anyone for that matter, but Dr. Weil (way more of an authority than me) provides a good summary here as well as some other links within his website. At its core, tofu is made from a coagulated fresh soy milk. The curds produced from this process are pressed into blocks of varying firmness. If you have access to good, locally made tofu without any junk in it, I don’t see any problem with consuming it on a weekly basis. Ingredients should include (organic) soybean curd, whatever acid/salt/enzyme the manufacturer chooses as the coagulating agent, and water. That’s it.

Press it.
If you are applying high heat (sauteing, grilling, roasting etc) to this wondrous substance, pressing it beforehand is going to help you enjoy it so much more. In effect, you’re removing the flavourless packing water, which makes way for a more enjoyable, chewy texture and a higher likelihood of golden brown-happiness once cooked. Also! Removing the no-flavour packing water leaves room for (duh) really delicious stuff in the form of a marinade or just a quick spice/flavour rubdown. Subtract water. Add tasty stuff. That’s easy math.

Or freeze it.
Very cool things happen to tofu when you freeze it in some sort of liquid (either the packing water or a marinade). The first time I tried it like this was when we were making a “thousand layer” tofu green curry during a vegan cuisine-focused lab in culinary school. The curry itself was amazing, but the tofu! It blew me away. Once you thaw and cook it up, it develops this layered interior. The texture is insanely agreeable, leaning towards chewy and meaty, but still soft/almost unctuous on the inside. For such minimal effort, it’s a really cool little tactic to try.

Are you afraid of making tofu at home? Or do you cook it often? Are your cooking methods super specific or tried and true? I would love to hear about your reasons for aversion or outright love of this stuff.

Hope you’re all enjoying these beautiful and long end-of-summer days. Big love, sunshine and bean curd to yas :)
Laura

pin it!
high protein salad with garlicky balsamic tofu
serves: 4
notes: According to my non-scientific nutrition calculations, this salad has approximately 28 grams of protein per delicious serving. Let’s. Get. Pumped.

tofu:
1 454g block of firm to extra firm tofu, pressed (great instructions for pressing here)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 big clove of garlic, minced
handful of chopped herb of your choice (I went with basil)
salt and pepper

salad:
salad greens for 4 people (about 2-3 cups per person)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 cup cooked quinoa
2-3 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
big handful of pine nuts (toasted if you like)

Cut the pressed tofu into 4 slabs: cut it in half down the middle on the smaller, rectangular side. Then proceed to cut those 2 slabs in half in the same manner. You should end up with 4 big squares of tofu that are about 1/2 inch thick.

Place the slabs of tofu into a large dish. Pour the balsamic vinegar and oil on top. Season with salt and pepper. Scatter the chopped garlic and herb all over the top. Marinate for 30 minutes or so, gently flipping the pieces of tofu around here and there.

Preheat the grill to medium-high. Place the tofu pieces onto the grill. Wait for about 4 minutes or until good char marks appear. Flip the pieces over. Cook until char marks appear on the reverse (about another 4 minutes) and tofu is browned to your liking. Remove from the grill and set aside. Don’t have a grill? You can always roast it.

Toss the salad greens with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Divide greens evenly among 4 plates. Distribute the chickpeas, quinoa, pine nuts and tomatoes amongst the 4 plates as well.

Cut tofu slabs into triangles if you like and arrange on top of salads. Serve.

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  • yossy | apt2bbakingco23/08/2012 - 4:39 pm

    Laura! This is just the inspiration I needed today. In fact, I am going to press some tofu right now for dinner tonight.ReplyCancel

  • sara23/08/2012 - 6:16 pm

    love the tips! the freezing thing is so interesting. LOVE your remark about women and salads, so true. I also think it’s funny that ladies think it’s always the “healthiest option”, regardless of the bacon, cheese, creamy dressing etc. So funny :)ReplyCancel

  • Kris23/08/2012 - 7:45 pm

    Great post… as per usual. I love tofu, and, though I do freeze my tofu from time to time, I’ve always thought it was a bit of a faux pas. I’m going to pay attention to those layers next time.ReplyCancel

  • Adrienne @ How to Ice a Cake23/08/2012 - 9:18 pm

    I’m not usually a big fan of tofu, but this looks so beautiful! And I’m always a fan of a bunch of great ingredients thrown in a bowl :DReplyCancel

  • Ashlae23/08/2012 - 10:53 pm

    I rarely eat tofu (I’m a tempeh girl, myself), but you piqued my interest with the whole freezing thing. So now I’m sitting across from a block of tofu, watching a towel absorb it’s excess liquid (woo hoo, what a rowdy Thursday night). In a few minutes I’m going to slice that thing, slather it in marinade and pop it in the freezer. AND TOMORROW I’M GOING TO MAKE TOFU MAGIC HAPPEN.

    PS – so stoked you said “leafies”. You’re the woman after my own heart.ReplyCancel

  • Jessica24/08/2012 - 3:41 am

    Never thought of freezing tofu for this fab outcome…this is a must try! Also love the idea of roasting it. I usually roast anything I can get my hands on so it surprises me I haven’t thought of tofu. One of my personal tofu favs is crumbling it and mixing with spinach and feta to make a filling for a pie. With loads of basil too!ReplyCancel

  • Michelle24/08/2012 - 9:26 am

    I am all about the fancy lady salads (minus the demanding attitude of course!)ReplyCancel

  • Hannah24/08/2012 - 9:43 am

    I’ll take your salad over the fancy lady one any day! And your tofu information is all spot on – thanks for sharing. If anyone else has little ones: if you can get ‘sprouted’ tofu (the folks at our farmer’s market carry it, and I believe Wildwood is making it available at grocery stores now too?) – my kids sometimes get tummy aches from regular tofu, but seem to have a much easier time with the sprouted variety. This looks incredible, and I can’t wait to try it – yum yum.ReplyCancel

  • Stacy24/08/2012 - 11:36 am

    Somehow I think that the forgetting-about-then-remembering thing happens to me with tofu as well; I have no idea why. Perhaps it’s because tofu can be so boring when prepared certain ways — but so fabulous when made well. I am looking forward to trying the freezing technique!!ReplyCancel

  • alison24/08/2012 - 5:38 pm

    As a vegetarian of several years I have yet to try tofu. Crazy, I know. I’m a little afraid of it. Texture, maybe? Anyway, this looks beautiful and I couldn’t agree more on the local and organic.ReplyCancel

  • Amy @ fragrantvanillacake25/08/2012 - 8:17 am

    This salad sounds delicious, and it is beautiful! I could have gone for one of these for dinner last night :)!ReplyCancel

  • Lena25/08/2012 - 8:30 am

    I worked in a cafe after highschool, so I did not serve lunch, but I can tell almost without fail what people are going to order at a cafe now. And when a group of 20 something women, all stylishly dressed walked in, you had to try hide somewhere so that someone else had to make the oh so many latte macchiatos.
    I need to try this tofu version. I actually quite like tofu, but am always looking for new things to try.ReplyCancel

  • ally25/08/2012 - 11:29 am

    this looks absolutely perfect – my kind of salad, completely!
    xo
    http://allykayler.blogspot.ca/ReplyCancel

  • Kathryne25/08/2012 - 5:08 pm

    Balsamic tofu?! Why didn’t I think of that?!! I don’t eat a lot of tofu but man I would get excited about this salad, that’s for sure.

    I ate so many fancy lady chicken-topped salads (dressing on the side) before becoming a [mostly] vegetarian. Glad those days are over.ReplyCancel

  • Debora26/08/2012 - 7:15 am

    Great recipe! I’m always looking for new ways to prepare tofu and this is definitely worth trying.ReplyCancel

  • linda26/08/2012 - 9:15 pm

    Such a beautiful website you have! I’m considering schools and I’m curious about the culinary school that you went to? the vegan lab sounds very unique! thanks, lindaReplyCancel

  • Kathryn26/08/2012 - 9:29 pm

    I’m always slightly paranoid that a salad isn’t going to fill me up enough and so I always gravitate to ones that are packed with protein and fun ingredients like this. Tofu is not something that I eat a lot of & I don’t think I’ve ever cooked it so I really appreciate your tips as well.ReplyCancel

  • Jessica27/08/2012 - 12:41 am

    Roasted some tofu last night Laura for the first time – and it was delish! I did mine with malt vinegar, garlic, rice bran oil and pomegranate molasses. Yum! Thanks for the tip on this one. :-)ReplyCancel

  • Jeanine28/08/2012 - 1:58 pm

    I guess that means I’m a fancy lady – dressing on the side and all. I hope I don’t make the imaginary carafe motion, but I’m not so sure now :)ReplyCancel

  • Shannon31/08/2012 - 8:55 pm

    I’ve had this twice for dinner this week and loved it more each time. When people find out I’m a vegetarian, they almost always ask me, “But where do you get your protein?”. Um, 28 grams right here in this one bowl of deliciousness people.ReplyCancel

  • Tofu protein | Babystepsandbe05/09/2012 - 12:12 am

    […] a really high protein salad + balsamic tofu » The First Mess […]ReplyCancel

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  • Lauren21/12/2012 - 8:58 pm

    I love vegetarian, and gluten free options.
    I think your recipes are great!
    Thank youReplyCancel

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