Friday, September 11, 2009

Deliciousness is Only Three Ingredients Away!

Yes, you read that title correctly! Is there a better way to celebrate the end of the first week of school than with cookies that can be whipped up in no time and essentially no ingredients? I think not!

This recipe came from Ellie Krieger, of Food Network fame. She made these cookies on her show, Healthy Appetite, so that automatically makes these health food. She's a nutritionist, and nutritionists never lie. I originally wrote down this recipe a few years ago because it looked so delicious when she made them, but I recently rediscovered it and realized that her ingredients are already vegan - what a treat! Another bonus is that, even though frequent readers know my deep love of Earth's Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks, I know EB isn't necessarily ubiquitous in grocery stores yet, so that can complicate baking. What's great about this recipe is there is no need for any sort of butter substitution, so we're good to go!

Speaking of ingredients, you may have noticed that lately I've been using more dark chocolate. There's a pretty straightforward reason for this; although I've always been a huge fan of milk chocolate, there's a word in there that is clearly problematic for a budding vegan like me. I've never really been into dark chocolate, but I've been experimenting with it more because, although there are some varieties that use milk, there are definitely others that are vegan; just read the label. Now that I've been playing around dark chocolate more, I'm realizing it is 1) easy to sweeten, and 2) sweet in its own way, depending on the recipe. For these cookies, I melted 6 ounces of the 365 brand, and was pleasantly surprised to find that when I melted the dark chocolate, it took on a smooth, subtle sweetness, which was definitely welcome to my sugar-loving tastebuds.

For the curious, I do have a favorite brand (or brands?) I gravitate towards. I like Equal Exchange or the 365 Organic Swiss Dark Chocolate found at Whole Foods. I'm almost positive that these are, in fact, the same company, but different groups use different packaging. No matter - the chocolate is high quality and wonderful, and they use fair trade practices with the chocolate producers - all things we can feel good about. The 365 brand is at Whole Foods, and Equal Exchange is a number of places, including Whole Foods and REI. A good tip, though: there are many non-profit organizations that sell Equal Exchange for lower prices for fundraising purposes, both online and in person. It's definitely worth a quick search on Google to locate this stuff!

And now, on to the main event. For the recipe below, I've used the same ingredients that Ellie used in the original recipe, but I've tinkered with ways to simplify how to get the same result with less work. I also think this recipe is ripe for substitutions. I would use the same amount of chocolate, and the same volume of mix-ins, because otherwise the cookie probably won't be able to stand up on its own. But the ingredient combinations are endless! Ellie recommends you toast the almonds, and if you like some smokiness in your food, I agree. However, if you're just into cookie eating for the crunch, no need to toast. I also think you could use coconut in this recipe, and other assorted dried fruit. I also love the tart sweetness of dried cherries, so even though Ellie uses 1/2 c. dried cherries, I am more inclined to using closer to 2/3 or 3/4 cup. If you play around with this recipe and have any successful combos, please post your masterpiece recipe in the comments!

Ellie Krieger's Cherry Almond Chocolate Clusters
Yields: 12 cookies

1 c. slivered almonds
1/2 - 3/4 c. dried cherries, chopped
6 ounces dark chocolate

1) Melt chocolate, either in a double boiler or the microwave. If using the microwave, this should take about 2 minutes; melt the chocolate in 30 second intervals and mix in between (and be careful, because that bowl will be hot!)
2) Add almonds and cherries to the chocolate and mix well.
3) Drop by rounded tablespoons or use a cookie scoop to drop cookies onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
4) Cool in fridge for 15-30 minutes, until chocolate hardens. Store covered in the fridge.

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