Good for the soul, bad for the heart

As a self-confessed foodie, I am very aware of the fact that some of the most delicious foods are full of sugar, salt, and fat.  In large quantities, these three wreak havoc on the body, and but cutting them out of our diets means that food becomes much blander, or is full of artificial ingredients to imitate their flavoring effect.

It's actually not that hard to adjust to a reduced salt/sugar diet - over a short period of time, one becomes more sensitive to these ingredients in food.  The only problem with this is that it also means that food made for people on the normal high salt/sugar diet tastes too salty or too sweet (my boyfriend makes fun of me for this, actually).  As for the reduced fat diet, well, the body gets used to that too, and isn't so happy if you suddenly eat a falafel sandwich and fries for lunch.

That said, I think the important thing for taking care of yourself is to enjoy these less healthy things in moderation.  It's good to enjoy the things you are eating, and so I hold that flavor is good for the soul.  However, when your cookies take three sticks of butter to make, it's probably not so good for the heart.

Just look at those pecans.  See how they glisten?  That's the butter, honey, and heavy cream making them shine.

These cookie bars start with a simple crust - butter, brown sugar, and flour - and are topped with a somewhat unusual but delicious caramel concoction.  The topping is made with butter, brown sugar, honey, cream, vanilla, and salt boiled together for a few minutes.  The boiling is mostly done to melt everything together, but the brown sugar caramelizes a little as well.  When this is mixed properly, pecans are added and the whole mess is poured on top of the pre-cooked crust, then baked until it bubbles.

The result is a decadent, buttery bar, with a sticky sweet topping.  The honey and brown sugar add character to the flavor - it kind of makes me think of trees, but in a good way.  These were very popular both in my office and at bible study, but I made it a point to share with both groups - one or two of these is fine, but it's too easy to lose track of the whole "moderation" thing with cookies that taste this good.


Mexican Hot Chocolate in cookie form!

This has been a pretty busy weekend, and since I need to get to bed soon, I will skip the usual small-talk and get to the cookies.

I realize pepper usually ends up in cookies as a cruel practical joke, but these cookies are actually very good!  These icebox cookies are flavored with dutched cocoa, instant espresso powder, cinnamon, and black pepper.  The cocoa and espresso dominate the flavor palate, giving a nice dark chocolate taste.  The cinnamon is, well, apparent, and the black pepper adds just a bit of spiciness, which comes as a bit of a surprise, but I really like it.  The flavor of these cookies very closely matches that of Mexican hot chocolate (the creepy background grandma is my hot chocolate box), which gets its unique flavor from the addition of cinnamon and chili powder.  The cookies are somewhat soft, and altogether tasty.

I expect I will make these again when I want to surprise someone with a spicy flavor and secret caffeine.

Interlude -- Kitchen Overachiever

I have been following a (mostly) vegan diet since mid July of this year, and I have been working hard to convince my friends and family that this does not just mean eating tofurkey and celery sticks all day.  The easiest way to follow a diet like this is to search out recipes that use lots of vegetables, beans, and whole grains, rather than trying to replace meat and dairy with expensive fake versions.

The hardest part about this, however, is making food that impresses other people, without being labeled as "weird vegan food."  Last night a group of my friends had a potluck, and I am pretty sure I succeeded in supplying really tasty vegan food for their consumption.

I realize it's a bit overboard, but I have always been an overachiever in the kitchen (duh.. I'm spending every weekend for 3+ years making cookies), and since this recipe I found in the Veganomicon was so good, I will share it with you:

Butternut Squash and Pumpkin Seed Rice Paper Rolls

This was a time-consuming but fun recipe to make.  The colors of the squash and cilantro go very well together, and the pumpkin seeds add a nice salty flavor.  I suggest adding more squash and less rice noodles, but that may just be my American tastes poking through
(makes 12)

1lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4" cubes
2-3 t olive oil
12 round rice paper wrappers
4 oz rice sticks
1 C fresh cilantro, in bite-size pieces
1/3 C roasted, salted pumpkin seeds, chopped coarsely

1. Prepare the squash: Preheat the oven to 400˚F.  Place the butternut cubes on a baking sheet and rub them all over with the oil.  Arrange the cubes in a single layer and roast for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven, toss, and cook for 10 more minutes or until tender and slightly caramelized.  Transfer the squash to a plate to cool.

2. While the squash is cooking, prepare the noodles: boil a large pot of water.  Once it is boiling, turn off the heat, add the noodles, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Drain in a colander and run cold water over them to prevent further cooking.  Set aside until ready to use.

3. To assemble: Fill a large pie plate with very warm water.  Place two rice paper wrappers in the water at a time, completely submerged and let sit for about a minute, until they have softened.
Handle each wrapper gently as you place it on your work surface.  Place about 1/4 C rice noodles in the lower third of the wrapper, leaving about 1 1/2" of margin from the far edges on either side.  Place a layer of butternut squash above the noodles.  Sprinkle with the cilantro and pumpkin seeds.  To roll, snugly fold the left and right sides of the wrapper over the filling.  Lift the bottom of the wrapper over the filling and tuck it underneath the filling, then roll firmly but gently.  Place the rolls seam side down on a plate and cut in half when ready to serve.

I served these with a spicy cranberry sauce, but they should also go well with a soy dipping sauce.


two-tube model of the vocal tract

I realize this confession will shock no one at all, but I have to say it anyway: I am a huge nerd.  Although there are plenty of things that frustrate me about my Speech Processing class, I am still pretty excited about my current homework assignment.  In this assignment, I have to model the vocal tract as two uniform tubes and vary their length and cross-sectional area in order to produce rudimentary vowels - that is, sound files that go "oooh" and "aaah" and so on.

Speech is characterized by duration and frequency of sounds.  Vowels, more specifically, consist of some fundamental frequency band (the pitch of one's voice, generated at the vocal folds) with several overtones which are the product of tuned resonances in the vocal tract.  These resonance frequencies are tuned via motion of the jaw, tongue, and velum (or soft palate), so that the first and second harmonics in speech give us our vowel sounds.  Higher harmonics depend on things we cannot control, such as facial structure, and are responsible for the unique tone of an individual's voice.

My homework is not nearly so complicated as the real system - for one thing, it completely excludes the nasal passage - but I'm looking forward to programming my computer to sing the mahnamahna song to me.

To help with my programming endeavors, I went ahead and chose a caffeinated cookie recipe for the weekend:

By this time in my cookie project, I'm getting to the recipes I've been putting off for some reason or another.  I'd been delaying this recipe because, quite frankly, I'm not a big fan of Earl Grey tea, but I had to do it at some point, and so here they are!
These cookies consist mostly of butter and flour, and a little bit of confectioner's sugar, so they have a shortbread-like consistency, and basically fall apart when you take a bite of them.  They get their flavor from orange zest and about 4 teabags worth of Earl Grey.  Now, when I went to the grocery store I could only find decaf Earl Grey, so these cookies are caffeine-free and won't keep me awake as I study.. oops.  These are icebox cookies so once I made the dough I rolled it out into tubes and froze it, then sliced it into 1/4" pieces to get a nice uniform result.

I really like the consistency of these cookies, anything that is melt-in-your-mouth is good in my book, and I find that the orange zest is the dominant flavor, so I don't have to deal with the bergamot that I don't like very much.  I'm not sure if I would repeat this recipe because it's kind of strange, but I think the idea of putting tea in cookies is interesting.

Also, would anyone in C-U like 16 bags of Earl Grey?  I don't plan on drinking the stuff and hate to throw it away.

Okay, that's it for now.  I'll be back next week, perhaps with new musical theater shenanigans, depending on if a good friend of mine can visit.


and it's cool, and it's totally awesome!

For any of you who haven't yet seen the Harry Potter musical, you really should check it out.  I've had the first song stuck in my head all evening.  It is amazing and hilarious and, most importantly, people like me who were never into the books/movies can love it too!  Just a warning, though: this is a full-length show, so you may end up losing a lot of time.

Lately, I've been losing what little time I can find by making crazy upcycling plans.  What is upcycling?  I'm glad you asked.  It's basically the process of taking clothes you don't want and using the fabric to make something you do want.  I have several shirts that I can't wear anymore, some because they are worn out and some because they are too big, and so I've been trying to find interesting things to do with the ones I can't bear to throw away.  Well, that and trying to screw up some courage to resize my big stuff, now that I have a sewing machine.  A couple weeks ago I made a t-shirt quilt out of a bunch of my old Threadless shirts.  My next project is to make a little shrug.  Hopefully it'll be totally awesome ^.~

 116. Fig Bars
These cookies look a lot like the ones I made the week before, but they aren't the same!  The filling for these is made with figs, red wine, cinnamon, honey, and pepper.  I used a cheap cabernet for the wine, because I try to use up the things I buy and have never really liked merlot much.  The cookie part is a simple white flour dough with lemon zest in it.

These cookies were alright at first, although I think the cabernet was a bad choice - I guess the thing about red wines is that they are meant to go well with savory things like steak or pepper, but some go better than others - it probably would have been a good idea for me to think about what kind of wine to buy rather than to pick up something with a kangaroo on it.  The strange and cool thing, though, is that after a few days the cookies became a little softer and the flavors mellowed out, and all of a sudden these cookies were really delicious.

 117. Cassis Chambord Crisps
These are very simple cookies.  In short, they are low-butter sugar cookies with a hefty dose of Cassis, a blackberry liqueur, to give it flavor.  The recipe suggested Chambord, a raspberry liqueur, as a substitute, and since I love raspberry and couldn't find any creme de cassis on short notice, I made the suggested substitution.  Little did I expect, however, that I would end up having to buy a holy hand grenade filled with liqueur!  Or that it would set me back $30.

The holy hand grenade of raspberry liqueur.
These cookies just came out of the oven about half an hour ago, and I'm not entirely sure what I think about them yet.  They aren't particularly crisp, and I can't detect any raspberry flavor in them.  I'm hoping that they might taste better in the morning, but we'll see.  I suppose I'll have to update again then to let you know.

Edit: the raspberry shows up after about two bites, hooray!

I think that's it for now.  Perhaps in a future entry I'll post some of the products of my sewing adventures, but that will all depend on how they turn out.


Related Posts with Thumbnails