Prep Work

When I was in elementary school, I never had to study for anything.  In middle school, I had my first experience where I actually had to think ahead and prepare for a test the night before.  It took me until my third year of college to learn to start my homework more than one day in advance, and until graduate school to start it once it was assigned.

Now, it wouldn't have made sense for me to memorize all the countries in Europe a week in advance in sixth grade, but as my assignments (and chores, and sewing projects, and kitchen experiments...) have become more complicated, I have realized that prep work is crucial in order to ride the wave of chaos.

Today's prep work has been for a self-caused problem - I am going to visit my parents for Thanksgiving, and they're not at all equipped to deal with my mostly-vegan habits.  Thus I have been getting things together for snacks/lunch on the road tomorrow, and have started collecting simple recipes that hopefully won't scare my family off of the interesting foods I eat.

I confess that I am making something strange for my own consumption, but that is in the hopes that it will be able to fill in if I feel like a meal needs some meat texture.  I think I'll talk about that more in another post, though.

For now, I am working on catching up on my slight posting backlog.  Thus, here are the past two week's cookies:

Oh. My. Goodness.  It has been quite some time since a recipe from my cookbook has left me so impressed.  But this one has, and I had a hard time not eating them all up myself (which would have been a bad idea).

These cookies/waffles are super full of chocolate - they have unsweetened chocolate melted into copious amounts of butter, as well as a hefty serving of Dutch-process cocoa.  Aside from the regular other ingredients, these have half a tablespoon of cinnamon, giving them a nice Mexican Chocolate flavor.

The batter for these is cooked in a waffle maker, which means each batch (of 4) only took about 2 minutes to be done, and looked very pretty too.  Finally, the cooled cookies are dipped in a chocolate icing so that only the ridges are covered, and sprinkled with confectioners' sugar.  The result was a delicious cakey cookie, with a rich chocolate flavor.  I'm not sure if the icing added any extra flavor, but it made them look so very pretty.

These were very easy to make, but still very impressive.  They'll definitely be making a reappearance.

I'm not exactly sure why I chose these cookies this weekend, except perhaps that they needed to be done.  These cookies are made with Marsala wine as their main liquid, and are further flavored with chocolate chips, toasted almonds, candied orange peel, and cinnamon. The mix of flavors is interesting, and was pretty good a day after I baked the cookies.  However, when I was making these I was very concerned that there wasn't enough liquid in them... adding honey as instructed provided enough liquid to make the dough stick together.  Still, I think these cookies are too dry for my preferences.  In the meanwhile, I will be making more Tofu Marsala, and trying to figure out why blogger wouldn't upload the brighter version of my cookie picture.

Aright, that's all for me, I'll maybe have adventure stories later.

In the meantime, I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!


the hippie food store

I think most of my family would be surprised by the kinds of foods I've been eating lately: grains no one knows how to pronounce, mysterious home-grown sprouts (they're just mung beans, don't worry), and even (*gasp*) tofu.  I come from a classic American - meaning Irish and German and a few others thrown into the mix - family that eats meat and potatoes for dinner, and so every time I go to Strawberry Fields, the local (i.e. non-chain, and smaller) equivalent of Trader Joe's or Whole Foods, I think about how my culinary explorations lead me to places I had never thought I might visit, much less frequent.

One of the nice things about the kind of store that sells organic stuff, bulk grains, and so on is that I am almost always able to find any unusual natural ingredients I might need for my baking or cooking projects. Honestly, between Strawberry Fields and World Harvest I am able to find pretty much every specialty ingredient I might need.  It's pretty awesome.  It's also pretty encouraging that I've been around town long enough to have a reasonable idea of where to find more obscure ingredients.

Yesterday's expedition was for Grade B maple syrup, which is darker in color and "more robust" (according to my cookbook) than Grade A.  Having found that ingredient, I present for you this week's cookie:

I am not sure if these are rightfully called 'shortbread,' as their consistency is not quite the same as a traditional shortbread cookie, but these cookies are delicious nevertheless.

In this recipe, maple syrup, maple extract, and finely chopped pecans are mixed into a buttery dough made with a mix of all-purpose and cake flour.  The dough is chilled and later rolled out and cut into circles.  After brushing the cookies with an egg wash, a half pecan and sugar in the raw (cane sugar) were place on the top, and then the whole ensemble was baked.

These cookies are pretty fantastic.  The pecan pairs beautifully with the maple, and both flavors are immediately evident.  The texture is a little more chewy than a shortbread cookie, but the abundance of butter in the recipe does make these fall apart a little bit as you bite into them.

All in all, I'm really happy with these cookies.  I think I probably could have done just fine using regular syrup, but now that I have this Grade B stuff, I'll have to make more robust pancakes.  Or just more cookies.


Interlude -- Kitchen Overachiever, Part 2

I've been playing around with exploring more vegan recipes, and tonight I tried one that was quite good.  Thus, I will share it here (and put up a picture when I make my second batch).  The trick with vegan food is to cook things that are good without meat and dairy, rather than cutting them out of normal recipes and lamenting the loss of flavor/texture.  Since I've had to look into cooking more things from scratch, I've started to learn what more herbs and vegetables are for, and have by now explored nearly all of what is offered in Meijer's produce section.  Muah ha ha!

The following is from Supermarket Vegan, which is an interesting book, although I prefer to buy less canned stuff and find a lot of the recipes in the book have higher fat and sodium than I like.  This recipe is good: with 350 calories per serving, there's 13g protein, 9g fat, and 4g fiber (and nearly 600mg sodium... you can't win 'em all).

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Long Grain and Wild Rice, Pecans, and Cranberries

(makes 4 main dish servings)

2 medium acorn squash, halved, seeds and membranes removed
1T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 C chopped onion
2 T dry sherry or cooking sherry
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
2-1/3C low-sodium vegetable broth (chicken broth works too, if you're not vegetarian)
3/4 C wild rice mix (I like Lundberg Jubilee)
1/2 C dried cranberries
1/4 C pecans, slivered almonds, or walnut pieces
2 T chopped fresh sage
1/2 t salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425˚F.
Cut a very thin parallel slice on the uncut sides of the squash to help them sit upright without wobbling. Place the squash, cut sides down, in a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold them in a single layer. Add about 1/2" water to the pan. Cover and bake 45 minutes, until flesh is fork-tender. Remove from oven, pour off water, and turn the squash cut sides up; set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 350˚F.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the sherry and garlic and increase the heat to high; cook, stirring constantly, until the sherry has evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the broth, rice mixture, cranberries, pecans, sage, salt, and pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to between low and medium-low, cover, and simmer until the liquid has been absorbed, but the mixture is still quite moist (follow the time guidelines on the rice you bought). Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork.

Mound equal amounts of the rice mixture into the squash halves. Return to the oven and bake, uncovered, until heated through, about 10 minutes. Serve warm.

This is a really tasty recipe, especially if you like squash.  It's important to actually go and pick up fresh sage for this recipe - it really sets the aroma, and hence the flavor, of the rice.  The smell while the rice is cooking is really quite fantastic, it kind of reminded me of the way breakfast sausage smells, which leads me to suspect that sage has a place on my dinner table, and not just at Scarborough Fair.  Also, be careful about adding too much salt, especially if you use cooking sherry, since it has a lot of salt already.

Too distracted to sleep

I have this problem where I keep meaning to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and then the internet distracts me.  It is bad news.  So that I don't get too distracted and won't be too loopy when teaching my students tomorrow morning, I'll keep this post short.

121. Dulce de Leche Bat Cookies
Okay, so I realize the shapes in the picture aren't bats.  It would have been fun to follow the recipe, but I just didn't have the time or inclination to go searching the few baking stores around town for aspic cutters (which are basically very tiny cookie cutters).  Instead, I used my linzer cookie cutter, which has a little insert for the middle shape.  Yes, hearts are very different than bats.  They weren't my only choice, but hearts are happier than stars, triangles, diamonds, or circles.  So there you have it.  Happy brown hearts.

These cookies are super crunchy and full of chocolate.  The dough has both Dutch-process cocoa and melted semi-sweet chocolate mixed into it, and not very much sugar.  It's also quite salty, with 3/4 teaspoons of salt in it (a usual amount is 1/8-1/4t).  The filling is simply store-bought dulce de leche.  Again, I didn't have the time or inclination to make my own, as it involves cooking sweetened condensed milk for five hours.  The canned stuff is pretty good, I think I'll try to use the rest of it on apples.

Overall, these cookies are quite delicious.  I had concerns that the dulce de leche would make them taste too rich, but the dark chocolate flavor and saltiness of the cookies counteracts the sweetness of the filling very nicely.  I think that these cookies are perhaps a little too salty, though, so maybe if I try these again I'll have to reduce the salt to 1/2t.


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