Possibly Health Food

Life is very busy right now, and so this one is going to be a short post without (most of) the usual small talk.

103. Fruit and Nut Cookies
Over the summer I am trying to balance out my recipes between the availability of ingredients and time, but this specific recipe didn't really follow either specification.  Instead, I selected these cookies to send along as a hearty snack for a couple conference-going friends.  In this cookie, hefty quantities of pistachios, macadamia nuts, shredded coconut, chopped dates, and chopped dried apricots are just barely held together by the standard chocolate chip cookie dough base (that is, minus the chocolate chips).  The result was a good, chewy cookie that had a nice mix of subtle sweetness from the fruit and intermittent saltiness from the pistachios.

With all the healthy stuff in these cookies, I think the standard dough base was not the most appropriate choice.  I would have preferred (and in the future may change it to have) some whole wheat flour or wheat germ in the recipe to give the dough a richer flavor, and to perhaps make these cookies a little healthier.  A typical way to do this without messing up the recipe is to substitute wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour.  A friend of mine suggested adding oats to these cookies, but I'm not sure if that would be a good idea, as that would give the dough one more thing to hold together...

That's it for this cookie.  Considering my desire to mix wheat with fruit, I'm excited for whenever I make the whole-wheat date bars in my book.


false positive drug test? let's go!

It should be immediately obvious from the title of this post that I have been baking with poppy seeds (and not taking/failing drug tests, I promise).  I picked up a very small jar of these seeds when I made a buttermilk seed bread two weeks ago, and since I have them on hand, it only made sense to choose a cookie recipe that would let me use them.

102. Lemon-Poppy Seed Crisps
Saturdays are always one of my busiest days, and a recent knee injury made the day just a little more ridiculous.  It's difficult to rest while trying to get everything done around my apartment, but the cookies I planned to make before getting injured were, thankfully, one of the simpler parts of my day.

The name of these cookies tells pretty much all there is to know: butter, sugar, flour, and so on were mixed together with lemon zest, reduced lemon juice (boiled for about ten minutes), and poppy seeds to make a dough similar in consistency to peanut butter cookie dough - well, the way it should turn out, not the way my cookbook told me to make them - which was then rolled into a ball, rolled in a mix of sugar and more lemon zest, flattened, and baked.  The resulting cookies are, for the lack of an original adjective, crisp, which was to be expected, considering the large amount of butter in the recipe.  The lemon flavor is strong, and the poppy seeds... well, to be honest, I'm not really sure what the poppy seeds are for, aside from garnish and perhaps to add a little bit of different texture.  Oh, right, and tradition.  I won't whine too much about what seems like an unnecessary addition, since I need to use up what I have, but I think these cookies would be equally delicious without the poppy seeds, and wouldn't give people the risk of failing their drug tests, or, perhaps in a more realistic danger, embarrassing themselves with tiny black seeds stuck between their teeth in public.


Small town woes

Today my boyfriend and I went to Taste of Champaign-Urbana, a local food festival intended to showcase local restaurants, to see what there was to see (and eat).   The food was priced far too high for its mediocre quality, but I suppose the festival did give an accurate depiction of local fare.  After all, the quality of restaurants here is always qualified by the fact that, despite the presence of a large university, this is a middle-of-nowhere set of cities.  We describe restaurants as having "good (insert type here) food... for Champaign."  So I suppose, in that spirit, the food festival was a good festival... for Champaign.

The problem with this is that I am often disappointed when I go out places here, which means I find myself less inclined to want to go out places, and end up watching Quantum Leap on Hulu instead.  Oh, right, and looking around for new recipes so that I can cook fun stuff for myself, since I clearly can't rely on the restaurants around here for new and interesting foods (and because it's so much less expensive to cook even fancy foods at home).

Thus I continue on with my kitchen projects, and present for you this weekend's cookie endeavor, with its usual set of quirks.

101. Chocolate Malt Sandwiches
These rich chocolate cookies are so good, and aside from one special ingredient, were pretty easy and quick to make:

The main cookie part in this recipe has mostly typical ingredients, including Dutch cocoa to give it a strong chocolate flavor.  It also has a good helping of malted milk powder and a specialty ingredient called crème fraîche.  The malted milk is responsible for the nice chewy texture of these cookies, and I suppose the crème fraîche helps to make the cookie flavor just a little bit richer.

Before I go on, I suppose I should talk about this funny ingredient with all the accents.  Crème fraîche, or "krem fresh" for those who, like me, don't do French, is a nutty sour cream traditional in, you guessed it, France.  In the United States, it can be purchased for something like $5 for 8 oz, or you can make the equivalent amount for about $1 (and a couple days of waiting) by following the instructions in the above link.  I chose the cheap option, and whipped the rest with sugar to put on my nectarine slices.  Another inexpensive option, as suggested by a friend, is to use regular sour cream as a substitute.

The cookies on their own were delicious, and I didn't think they lacked anything, but my cookbook demanded filling.  In the spirit of completing the cookbook, I proceeded to make a decadent mix of nearly a whole bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips, butter, a cup of malted milk, cream cheese, half and half, and vanilla.  This was chilled, whipped, and put on the previously baked cookies.  It turns out they taste even better with the filling: both parts are very chocolate-y, but nothing is too rich all together, and the chewy texture of the cookies keep the filling from smooshing out of the center, which is always a plus.

I have one other comment before I stop talking about this recipe: there are some strange quantities various recipes in this book call for (such as 2C plus 2T of flour), and some quantity errors (particularly between tablespoons and teaspoons) that lead me to believe that much of this cookbook was made from rescaled recipes and lots of cut-and-paste.  My best proof for the latter is the final sentence in this recipe, which gives the storage instructions.  In my opinion, it is the best sentence in the entire book.
Cookies can be refrigerated between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.
This is why I don't worry about following instructions exactly.  I will be storing these in the refrigerator, which is definitely not at room temperature.

Correcting my cookbook...

Here I am with a late update, but this time it's not entirely my fault: my cookbook steered me wrong with a recipe that I didn't correct until mid-week.

Last Saturday was a multi-tasking disaster, as I worked to make bread, a specialty ingredient for today's cookies (I'll discuss these in my next post), egg salad for my lunches, and my usual cookies, while trying to get all my laundry washed and dried in time to watch a crazy bread anime with my friends.  I found myself working nonstop from about 2pm to 8pm, with everything turning out alright except for my cookies.

100. Lacy Nut Cookies
The first section of my cookbook pretty much consists of cookies with butter as their dominant ingredient.  This is especially apparent with any cookie that ends up with a lacy pattern, which gives away the fact that when it was baked the butter melted and then started to boil on the cookie sheet.  Since the dough melts, these cookies tend to become very large and thin, so they require a lot of space for baking and careful watching so they don't burn.

That is exactly where the original recipe steered me wrong.  The instructions called for chilling the dough in a log, and then cutting it into 1/4" pieces for baking at 350˚F for 15 to 20 minutes.  I followed these instructions, but after fifteen minutes the eight cookies I tried to make had turned into a single burnt mess.  This was too much for me to deal with on Saturday, so I turned off the oven after a couple botched batches and threw the dough in the refrigerator, in the hope that I would be able to rescue the project later.  The cookies that I had already made turned soggy overnight, as I left them out and the humidity basically ruined whatever good was left in them.

And so, later, I heated the oven to 300˚F (according to the dial - I need to get an oven thermometer to determine just how inaccurate this is, but I know the oven runs high), sliced the dough as thinly as I could possibly get it, and baked batches of 5 cookies each for only 11 minutes.  With these modifications, the cookies turned out very nicely, and I sealed them up in a bag quickly, so they remained crisp.  I wrote every change in my cookbook, but I think it's important to mention them here too, so that perhaps someone someday won't have to repeat this ordeal.

These cookies are, in general, pretty good, although the butter makes them kind of oily.  Aside from the butter, these cookies are made with confectioners' sugar, corn syrup, chopped pecans (hence the 'nut' in the title), and a small amount of bread flour.  Supposedly, the higher gluten of the bread flour makes the cookies a little more sturdy.  The result, when done properly, was a very thin, crunchy cookie with a strong sweet taste mixed with the flavor of toasted pecans.  I really like the texture of these cookies, eating them is much like eating a very thin piece of toffee (which is basically butter and sugar anyway).  My research group seemed to enjoy them too.


Another project concluded.

With the normal passage of time (and my normal obliviousness to its passage), June has come, and today makes it 80 days since I started my limoncello steeping.

You may recall I discussed this project about 40 days ago, but if you don't, here's a recap: I peeled 16 lemons, and threw the peels, a sprig of rosemary, and a fifth of 100-proof vodka in a jar, sealed it, and left it in my closet.  Eventually I added sugar syrup and more vodka, and put it back in my closet to sit again.  Today I took that jar out, and have strained this sweet and potent beverage into clear swing-top bottles.  The vodka picked up a nice yellow color that makes it look nice and summery.  In that spirit, I'm looking forward to enjoying this home-made limoncello with my friends.

As it has continued to be warm, I've been doing what I can to go outside, eat fresh produce, and all the other somewhat healthy things associated with nice weather.  Last Saturday I combined these activities in a trip to Urbana's Market at the Square, the local farmer's market.  There I saw plenty of strawberries, zucchini, and green beans, as well as baked goods and stalls for local butchers.  I wasn't feeling too adventurous (and I have pride about doing my own baking), so I just picked up some strawberries, which I proceeded to use in this weekend's cookie recipe.

99. Chocolate-Strawberry Thumbprints
I'm getting to the point in this cookie project where I am deliberately trying to prepare recipes I've been putting off for some reason or another.  This recipe had been delayed for two reasons.
1) Berries are expensive when they're not in season.
2) These cookies cannot be pre-assembled.
The nice thing about living in the Midwest, though, is that berries are now in season, and there is always at least one picnic or cookout to attend on Memorial Day.  So with berries in hand and a get-together in mind, I made these cookies.

There are three layers involved in this recipe.  The first is the chocolate cookie on the bottom, which is made with both dutch cocoa and semi-sweet chocolate.  For these cookies to be useful, I had to use my thumb to press a hole in the center before baking, and then use the end of a wooden spoon to deepen the hole halfway through the baking process.  Thus, the cookies themselves have a strong chocolate taste, with a nice open space in the center to hold the other two layers.  I was able to make these cookies a couple days ahead of time, as it's just the assembly that's time-sensitive.

The toppings for the cookie are simply cream cheese mixed with confectioners sugar, and diced fresh strawberries tossed with a little bit of granulated sugar.  The sugar made the strawberries more juicy, so if the toppings were left on the cookie for too long, the whole ensemble would get a little soggy.  This wasn't a big problem, though, because my friends ate them up in good time.

Overall, I would say this is a good recipe, although I found that the cream cheese doesn't really stand out when juxtaposed with the strawberries and all that chocolate.  It provides a nice texture and visual contrast, but I'm never totally happy with a recipe unless I can taste all the key ingredients.


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