February 28, 2014

Super-soft, dreamy whole-wheat cookies (made w/ coconut oil!)

Like most people who feel slightly guilty about their rate of cookie consumption, I've always been curious about whole-wheat flour. If I'm going to enjoy dessert, I might as well try to make it as healthy as possible, right?

Coconut oil has also piqued my interest of late. I detest coconut—everything from its texture to its aroma. But I kept coming across blog posts and articles touting the health and beauty benefits of coconut oil. Finally, I decided that I had to see for myself.

I finally took the plunge and purchased both items at Whole Foods: Organic 365 100% whole-wheat flour and Dr. Bronner's virgin coconut oil. Unfortunately, the coconut oil definitely smells like coconut (no surprise there, I guess), but not to the point where it's overly offensive.

I decided to kill two birds with one stone (so to speak) by using whole-wheat flour and coconut oil in one recipe. For my experiment, I chose a chewy whole-wheat cookie I found on AllRecipes. The original recipe didn't call for coconut oil, but I thought it would do well in this application, and I'm happy to say that it came out wonderfully! And strangely, it almost tastes buttery, even though there is not a speck of butter in it. In fact, I've gobbled up three cookies in the course of writing this blog post. What can I say? Writing makes me hungry.

Whole-wheat flour is great here. I was worried that it would make the cookie tough, but in this recipe, it just makes it taste slightly more nutty (and texture-wise, like whole wheat bread, it's definitely more fibrous than a cookie made with white flour).

This cookie is cake-like and soft, the perfect accompaniment to a cup of almond milk. I think it would also taste great with some chopped walnuts thrown in, to complement the nuttiness of the whole-wheat flour and coconut. I think you could even make it vegan by replacing the egg with ground flaxseed and water. The best part? I don't feel guilty about eating this as a snack or breakfast, because it's almost like having a slice of whole-wheat toast.

I really must marvel at my progress—I've come so far since my childhood days of chomping Fruity Pebbles and pound cake for breakfast. I really have.


Soft, Chewy Whole-Wheat Cookies (Healthier Butterless Snickerdoodles)
adapted from AllRecipes
Yields ~30 cookies
1 cup loosely packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup organic whole kernel virgin coconut oil
2 tbsp almond milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1 egg
2 cups whole wheat flour

Preheat oven to 375 °F.

In a large bowl, whisk brown sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda until uniform. Add the coconut oil, almond milk, cinnamon and egg and stir until combined. It's OK if it looks a little crumbly. Add the whole wheat flour and stir with a silicone spatula until it looks uniform. Test out the dough by trying to form it into a 1" ball. If it seems too dry, add a little bit more coconut oil or vegetable oil. I had to add about a teaspoon, but your dough may be moist enough.

Form the dough into 1" balls and place them about an inch apart on lined cookie sheets.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool (or enjoy while still warm). Pour yourself a glass of milk and congratulate yourself on making such a healthy dietary choice. You're really winning at life, y'know?

February 23, 2014

Chinese-Style Bibimbap


She was still not home after seven, and there was no call. The meat and vegetables were ready and waiting, so that I could cook them the minute she came in. Not that I had any great feast in mind: I would be stir frying thin slices of beef, onions, green peppers, and bean sprouts with a little salt, pepper, soy sauce, and a splash of beer--a recipe from my single days. The rice was done, the miso soup was warm, and the vegetables were all sliced and arranged in separate piles in a large dish, ready for the wok. Only Kumiko was missing.
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami
I cherish the moment when I've finally finished slicing and dicing all my vegetables. It means that the hard part's over, and I'm that much closer to my reward: a hot, tasty meal.

I love Korean food. Especially because the older I get, the more spiciness I can tolerate. Bibimbap is a fun word to say. Be. Beam. Bop. But I digress.

I used to think that the whole dish was quite mysterious, so I never attempted to make it at home. But then I realized the secret to making it at home. Do yourself a favor and get thee to an H-Mart (or other Korean supermarket) to purchase a container of gochujang, the red fermented chili sauce that goes on this dish. Plus, Wikipedia even says it provides vitamins! Now that you hold the key to bibimbap, you can concentrate on customizing this dish to your liking.

I used Chinese broccoli stems because I adore their crunchiness (also great in fried rice), but you can use whatever vegetables you happen to be craving. Traditionally, this is served with a fried egg on top, but I opted for a perfectly hard boiled egg instead (see here for directions on how to make those). I also used slices of char siu because I happened to have some on hand, but I imagine this would also be delicious with beef or chicken. Serve with a nice helping of kimchi, which will echo the fermented flavor of the gochujang, and the crispiness of the Chinese broccoli stems.


Chinese-Style Bibimbap
Ingredients (makes enough for several servings)
1 medium onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 squash, sliced into half moons
Stems from 1 bunch Chinese broccoli, sliced thinly
1/2 cup frozen or fresh corn
1 tbsp gochujang (more for serving)
Drizzle of sesame oil

Ingredients for assembly of one serving
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
a few slices of cooked protein (such as char siu, chicken, flank steak, baked tofu)
1 soft-boiled egg

Heat a large wok over medium-high heat. Drizzle oil into the pan and add the onion, garlic, squash, Chinese broccoli stems and gochujang and saute until the squash and onion are softened but the broccoli stems are still slightly crisp (about 15 minutes). Add a drizzle of sesame oil and turn off the heat.

Arrange your cooked rice into a bowl along with the meat/tofu, egg and about a cup of the vegetables. Add more gochujang as needed, if you'd like the flavor to be spicier. Enjoy!

February 16, 2014

C is for Cookie, F is for Feelings

Baking was no different than anything else; there was a right and a wrong way to do it, and no room for forgiveness of one's mistakes. While she had waited for the meringue to brown in the oven, she had wondered if the bile, fury, and scorn she was baking into every bit of this particular Nilla wafer pudding would manage to affect its flavor.
Red Hook Road, Ayelet Waldman

What an interesting theory! Does our state of mind get baked or cooked into whatever we're making at the time? Can gnocchi or chocolate cake or cinnamon buns taste like sadness or bliss or love or hate?

If this is true, then the oatmeal cookies I made last night taste like what I felt: sleepy and content.

But to people who have less sensitive taste buds, these cookies will just taste downright addictive.

Sweet, nutty, crumbly and chock full of chewy oats, these cookies are like a bowl of peanut butter oatmeal that you can take with you on the go. Maybe not quite as healthy or wholesome, but much more likely to satisfy your cravings when you need a quick sugar fix on a Saturday night. You probably already have all the ingredients for this recipe, and the cookies will be ready in less than 30 minutes. It's a no brainer.


Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies
Yields 14 cookies
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups quick oats
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Stir brown sugar and peanut butter until evenly mixed. Add egg and canola oil and stir until combined. Fold in the oats, baking soda and cinnamon until it all becomes a smooth mixture. It will be very dry. 

Drop tablespoons about an inch apart on a cookie sheet.

Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

Texture: crumbly, not chewy or crispy. 
Flavor profile: sweet, salty, nutty

February 11, 2014

Moove aside, margarine...butter is better

Away Laura flew, still holding her piece of bread-and-butter. It's so delicious to have an excuse for eating out of doors, and besides, she loved having to arrange things; she always felt she could do it so much better than anybody else.
—"The Garden Party," Katherine Mansfield
When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray, with a cup of fragrant tea steaming on it; and a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in it in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb. The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one's ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender; of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
As both of these passages indicate, butter is a wonderful companion when you're seeking a cozy and delightful time. I grew up eating margarine, not butter, on my bagels—Blue Bonnet, Imperial, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter...whatever brand was cheapest or on sale. It wasn't just cheaper than butter; people believed it was healthier, too.

This perhaps explains why I still enjoy its particular flavor, but since that whole nasty business of the trans fats has come to light, I've replaced it with butter, its original, more wholesome cousin—and I've discovered just how delicious it can be. Better late than never, right?

I don't like butter in my vegetables, but I do love it on my carbs. In particular, I enjoy it on a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel, or a slice of whole-grain toast. And who knows? Maybe someday I'll progress to more creative outlets like coffee.

For now, I'll stick with cookies. Oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies, to be precise.

The best part about these cookies? Since they have oats in them, you can eat them for breakfast without feeling (quite as) guilty. :)

I've also had luck freezing the dough and baking it up whenever my inner Cookie Monster awakens. If you'd like to follow suit and freeze some of the dough for later use, feel free! Just follow the directions as written, but instead of dropping the tablespoons of dough onto the cookie sheet, place them on a plate or tray (making sure they're spaced out enough so that they don't touch one another) and freeze until solid, about 1 hour. Then transfer to a resealable bag or container and freeze until you're ready to bake them.

Tasting notes: This cookie is cake-like, but satisfyingly chocolatey. Especially if you use high-quality chocolate like this one:



85% cocoa. Mmm. I found this brand at ALDI for a good price. I think it was about $2. Worth every penny. I broke it up into chunks for this recipe, but you can feel free to substitute chocolate chips if you like.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies
(adapted from Allrecipes)
Yield: 14-18 cookies

Ingredients
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup dark chocolate chunks

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat the butter and sugar together until smooth. Add the egg and stir until combined.

Mix in the rest of the ingredients and stir until combined.











Drop rounded tablespoons onto a cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown and crisp around the edges.
Pour yourself a glass of milk and dive in!

February 9, 2014

A Souper Duper Way to Use Leftovers

"A delicious odor came from a pot on the gas stove. He lifted the lid. Brown meat juice bubbled up through carrots and onions, and a stick of white celery swam like a fish."
—Sweet Thursday, John Steinbeck
In the above passage, Doc comes home to find that Suzy has been making stew for him in his home. What a welcome surprise. I can't think of a more wonderful way for someone to make my heart melt (and my stomach grumble).

Soup is one of those comfort foods that's as low-maintenance as you're going to get. It's even easier if you have some leftover scraps from the fridge, calling out to be transformed into something extraordinary. I love leftovers. Mostly because I love snacking on them.

As for leftover ingredients like the last bits of meat on a rotisserie chicken, or the remainder of a pint of heavy cream leftover from making pumpkin pie? I love those for a different reason: They force me to get creative in the kitchen.

After the aforementioned pumpkin pie adventure, I had some heavy cream leftover, and I didn't want to throw it out. It pains me to throw out perfectly good food. So I came up with this chowder recipe, and it was pretty darn tootin' tasty, if I do say so myself. You don't have to be a mathematician to understand this formula: Leftover Chicken + Leftover Heavy Cream = Awesome Chowder. 100% success rate. (Granted, the sample size is 1, but still!)


Leftover Chicken Corn Chowder
Serves 2-3 appetizer-sized portions
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 ribs celery, chopped
1-2 carrots, chopped
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed
1 red bell pepper, cubed or minced
1/2 cup frozen or fresh corn kernels
1 tbsp Better Than Bouillon (or 3 cups chicken stock)
Leftover, cooked chopped chicken meat (about 1/2 to 1 cup)
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
Blue corn tortilla chips and/or avocado slices, to serve

Drizzle oil into a 2.5-qt. stockpot and set over medium high heat. Cook the onion, garlic, celery, carrots and potatoes for approx. 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the red bell pepper, corn, and enough water (or chicken stock, if using) to cover by about an inch. Boil for 20-30 minutes until the carrots and potatoes are tender. Add the chicken and cream and turn heat down to medium. Add salt and pepper (or Old Bay, if you have it) to taste. Cook until slightly thickened (shouldn't take long). Serve with tortilla chips or avocado slices (or both!).

Variations:

  • Use turkey meat or no meat at all if you want it to be vegetarian. 
  • Season with Old Bay instead of salt and pepper (it enhances the celery flavor). Add shrimp if you want to pursue the seafood theme.
  • Crumble in some tortilla chips shortly before serving, so they'll be somewhere between soggy and crisp as you dig your spoon into this creamy, hearty soup.

February 3, 2014

Reader, I baked a pumpkin pie.

Charlotte Bronte knows it, I know it, and you know it, too: While some of us have the self-restraint to say no to a "circlet of delicate pastry," others of us could never resist. I fall into the latter camp. Perhaps it was this same self-restraint that drove Jane to run away instead of succumbing to her desires and living with Mr. Rochester in sin. You've got to give the girl credit for listening to reason...but that doesn't make up for the fact that she's crazy for denying herself the pastry in the below passage:
Bessie had been down into the kitchen, and she brought up with her a tart on a certain brightly painted china plate, whose bird of paradise, nestling in a wreath of convolvuli and rosebuds, had been wont to stir in me a most enthusiastic sense of admiration; and which plate I had often petitioned to be allowed to take in my hand in order to examine it more closely, but had always hitherto been deemed unworthy of such a privilege. This precious vessel was now placed on my knee, and I was cordially invited to eat the circlet of delicate pastry upon it. Vain favour! coming, like most other favours long deferred and often wished for, too late! I could not eat the tart: and the plumage of the bird, the tints of the flowers, seemed strangely faded! I put both plate and tart away.
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Speaking of self-restraint (or lack thereof), I am moving this month...which means that it doesn't make sense for me to buy anything right now. But we always want what we can't have, don't we? Oh, how I find the consumerist, materialistic beast in me wanting things. Unnecessary things. Like a microwave rice cooker (cool...but I have a rice cooker already). And this egg and muffin toaster (once again, cool...but an impractical use of counter space).

So, when my coworkers decided to organize a pie potluck in honor of National Pie Day (Jan. 23), I wanted to buy things that would help me make a buttery pie crust. Like a food processor. And a rolling pin.

Then I snapped out of it and decided to find a way to bake a fantastic pie without buying either of those things. Spoiler alert: I succeeded!

This marked the first time I made a pie all by myself. In the past, I always thought it was too complicated to make every component from scratch. But once again, Martha Stewart saved me from my deluded perception of reality. Making a pie can be almost as easy as, well, eating it. Especially if you opt for a press-in shortbread crust. Plus, it's like eating a cookie and pie at the same time. Two desserts with one stone, er, pie.

Before embarking on my pie adventure, I did plenty of research on The Kitchn (which posted an intriguing take on pumpkin pie made with filling that was smoothed out in the food processor, cooked and pressed through a strainer, and then finally poured into a warm crust). But, (1) I didn't have a food processor, and (2) it seemed far too complicated for a first-time pie baker like me. I think pumpkin pie should be easy, or you won't enjoy it as much later. I didn't alter Martha's recipe much; just upped the amount of cinnamon and ginger to ensure a flavorful filling. This pie was delicious, if I do say so myself. Is it irresistible enough to entice the Jane Eyres of the world to eat? I think so. Scratch that. I know so. Bake one and see for yourself.


Pumpkin Pie with No-Roll Crust
adapted from Martha Stewart
Shortbread Crust
6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt

Filling
15 oz. can of pumpkin puree
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

First, prepare the crust by mixing the butter with the sugar and yolks until combined. Work in the flour and salt with your fingers until the dough is crumbly. Press into a 9" pie pan. It will not seem like enough crust, but just press it as thin as you can without making holes in the crust. The crust should be able to go up the sides at least a little bit. Freeze for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the frozen crust for 12-15 minutes. Let cool. Meanwhile, prepare the filling.

To prepare the filling, whisk all ingredients together until smooth. Pour into the cooled crust until it reaches the edges (you may have extra filling that you can save for a mini pie). Place the pie pan on a cookie sheet or baking sheet and bake for 65 to 75 minutes (mine took 75 min., but your oven may be hotter). How do you know when it's done? It should still be slightly jiggly but mostly firm.

Let cool on a wire rack and refrigerate overnight (or at least 6 hours).