March 8, 2012

Oil is a butterless baker's best friend

Tonight, I had the pleasure of discovering that it is possible to bake cookies that are both chewy and delicious, even if you have nary an ounce of butter in the house.

I'll always remember an episode of Paula Deen where she confesses that she feels nervous whenever she has less than a pound of butter in the fridge. So funny. That's exactly how my sister and I feel about eggs — when the carton dwindles down to the last two or three, we get a little uneasy.

It's good to have a few go-to recipes when you're out of staples. Out of flour? You could whip up a flourless chocolate cake or some peanut butter cookies. Out of eggs? Make this eggless carrot cake. Out of butter, but craving cookies? I used to turn to these no-butter snickerdoodles, but as of now, I have another I-can't-believe-it's-not-butter favorite.

I love those snickerdoodles to death, but they're so crunchy that I always thought that it was simply impossible to achieve a truly chewy texture in cookies made with oil rather than butter.

As of one hour ago, I'm happy to report that I was wrong. Not only are these cookies chewy, but they're also delicious. I even added some fresh cracked black pepper and a dash of nutmeg to the recipe to spice things up, literally. They are just as good, if not better, than those giant ginger cookies I can't resist buying at the Union Square Greenmarket every weekend. Those babies may be huge, but they cost $3.00 apiece! Pretty steep, if you ask me. This recipe makes about 20 mid-sized cookies, and you can whip them up in about 30 minutes tops, from start to finish(ed-in-your-mouth). Not a bad use of time if you're a cookie monster like me. Recipe follows...but first, a bit of "cookie" (or if you prefer British speak, "biscuit") lit:
"Got any grub?"
Before I could answer she plunged her free hand into my pockets, first left, then right, and triumphantly retrieved the chocolate biscuits. "My favorites. Come on. Let's dump your coat and you can start in the kitchen. I hope you're not a whiner."
--The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey
Ooh, I'd be so mad at that girl for taking my chocolate biscuits. What kind of person does that?

Chewy No-Butter Ginger Cookies
2/3 c. canola oil (a little less is better)
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/4 c. molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 dash nutmeg
a few turns of black pepper
1/3 cup granulated sugar, for rolling

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with tin foil. Mix all ingredients until well combined, and roll into 1.5 inch balls. Roll each ball in the sugar and place on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Flatten each cookie slightly with the palm of your hand. This recipe makes about 2 dozen cookies. Bake for 9 or 10 minutes, if you want them to be chewy. Remember, it's better to underbake than overbake.

March 7, 2012

Cheddar Bay & Tina Fey

You know what I love? The free goodies that restaurants sometimes provide to whet your appetite as you think about what to order. Sometimes you'll be lucky enough to get something that beats the pants off your average bread basket...and in my opinion, you can't get much better than the Cheddar Bay biscuits from Red Lobster. The brown bread at Cheesecake Factory and Marie Callender's cornbread come close.
"There is no one of-woman-born who does not like Red Lobster cheddar biscuits. Anyone who claims otherwise is a liar and a Socialist."
Bossypants, Tina Fey
True that, Tina. Sadly, I'm pretty sure no one takes me seriously when I tell them I wish to someday dine at The Red Lobster in Times Square. Perhaps most people over the age of 12 simply find it too mortifying to dine at an establishment with a gigantic revolving red lobster right above the entrance.

Alas, until I can finagle someone into accompanying me to an actual RL, I guess Bisquick's cheddar garlic biscuit mix will have to do. They really are quite successful at approximating the real deal; I used to make them in college all the time. Just add water! I think Tina Fey would approve.

March 5, 2012

Bookworms can be shallow, too.

Reading is generally accepted as an intellectual and productive way to pass one's time, but those of us who do quite a bit of reading know that this isn't always the case. It can certainly be a wonderfully self-indulgent, epicurean pursuit...for why else would we do it as often as we do? I exploited this misconception when I was younger, when my parents were always more than happy to let me spend hours reading on the couch — even if I was just catching up with Elizabeth and Jessica of Sweet Valley High. On trips to the library, my dad let me load the bag up with whatever I wanted, whether it was R.L. Stine or Charles Dickens. Who cared? As long as it was a book. 

Now, I appreciate creative, literary genius as much as the next English major, but I have to admit that I can be very shallow about books, at least before I get to know them. I like to judge them by their covers, the font, the thickness of their pages, and sometimes even how they smell. I also find myself drawn to such trivial details as how many times the author mentions a favorite food of mine. The following two excerpts are taken from books that were average reads. And yet, the fact that they mentioned eggs somehow helped raise them in my eyes by, oh, half a star on a rating scale of 1 to 5. What can I say? Taste in books is very subjective.
"There," he said, handing it to Philip, "You can eat my top if you like."
Philip would have liked an egg to himself, but he was not offered one, so took what he could.
--Of Human Bondage, W. Somerset Maugham

When they got into the flat, Dud said he was so hungry he could eat the rocking horse — he began, indeed, to gnaw on it — and then suddenly everyone was starving, and Iris and Joyce were making toast and frying eggs in the kitchen: extraordinary eggs, which no sooner broke and were in the pan than they were cooked, so that even when they were dishing them up and handing them out (Joyce still with her cat gloves on) the girls were calling everyone to come and look at the extraordinary eggs that cooked in an instant. The eggs, taken into the lounge and eaten with salt and dry toast, seemed delicious.
--Everything Will Be All Right, Tessa Hadley