Friday, September 25, 2009

[Low-fat] Butter Rum Cookies

Someone asked me what the point of a low-fat cookie was since I was still making -- and consuming -- sweets. The way I see it, 1) reducing/replacing the fat reduces the overall calorie count of the treat and 2) sugar calories are only "bad" if you don't burn them off* -- then they turn into fat -- whereas fat calories start off as fat and require extra effort to convert; like aerobic activity and reaching your target heart rate and whatnot. While I've come to enjoy lifting weights and spending time on the elliptical machine, I'd rather have a cookie that I can work off on my walk to the gym.
This new recipe, for example, still has all the sugar, but uses only 4 tablespoons of butter and 4 tablespoons of 80 proof alcohol (net: ~535 calories, some of which I think bake off with the alcohol, & ~45 grams of fat) versus 12 to 16 tablespoons of butter (~1,220 to 1,630 calories & ~135 to 180g fat) in a standard recipe. With another ~500 calories in flour and ~700 in sugar, they're still not "good" for you, but it's a pretty significant difference. At the rate I like to consume cookies [think Cookie Monster] there's no way I can keep ordinary cookies around the house and still be able to zip up my pants... and I like it when my pants fit... and I like keeping cookies around the house.
Enough ranting... This cookie is a riff on the pie crust method of using alcohol to hydrate the flour while inhibiting gluten formation, plus oat flour and powdered sugar/cornstarch for tenderness. Most of the alcohol does bake off, but a good ~30 -40% remains immediately after baking and slowly evaporates out over time, so this is probably not the best cookie for the kiddos [and the dough is downright boozy and eggless, making it an inappropriately excellent snack for adult dough-eaters]. These start off crunchy on the outside with a chewy caramel-flavored center and become uniformly soft over time. I've got a few variations in mind, but I'll test them first. So many cookies, so little time...
Recipe: Butter Rum Cookies
Yield: ~2 dozen cookies
Since there's so little, browning the butter is important for delivering the flavor of buttery goodness. These guys don't spread much during baking, though they will puff from the baking soda. You can use AP flour in place of the whole-wheat flours, and oat flour in place of the oatmeal. It may work using just 1.5 cups of AP, but I don't have any so I haven't tested it.

1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup rolled oatmeal
1/2 cup powdered sugar (or white sugar plus 1 tsp cornstarch)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 T butter, browned
2 T spiced rum
2 T vodka, everclear, or amaretto
2 t vanilla

Preheat oven to 375F. Combine all dry ingredients in a food processor [or blender**] and process ~3 minutes or until oats are mostly pulverized. Meanwhile heat butter in a small skillet over medium flame, stirring occasionally with a heat-proof spatula, until nutty brown milk solids rise through the foam, ~2 minutes. Remove from heat and scrape into a heat-safe bowl to stop further browning/burning.

Add alcohol and vanilla to the dry ingredients, then drizzle butter over. Pulse until mixture forms a cohesive ball. Scoop by rounded tablespoons (I used a #60 scoop) onto parchment lined sheet and flatten with a fork or glass [cut glass makes pretty patterns]. Bake 12-15 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. [Cookies may bee surprisingly flexible, but if they're browned, they're done.] Slide parchment onto cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container.

* My dentist may disagree.

**If using a blender, process dry ingredients, then transfer to a bowl and mix wet ingredients with hand mixer or spatula.


There's a great quote in This Side of Paradise where the protagonist, a disillusioned and disaffected youth, walks along a country road and stops to examine a flower only to discover that the flower's not in the best shape either. He laments that nature is "a rather coarse phenomenon" that can only be enjoyed in macro and it, like the rest of society, doesn't hold up to close scrutiny.
This flower's at the end of its existence, but I think it more interesting in detail [click on the picture for better resolution].
I like scrappy.

FYI: I still have the mosquito box... They're still hatching and it's mesmerizing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Now I've done it.

Have you ever accidentally created a mosquito terrarium? I don't mean a breeding ground in the form of a bucket of rain water on the patio; I mean a display case in your living room full of buzzing mosquitoes, something only a truly demented person would possess.
It started innocently enough. There was a very pretty polypore fungus at the base of a tree around the corner, hanging over the curb. I decided that sooner or later a car was going to park too close and destroy it and my Wardian case happened to be empty, so JG brought it home for me. [You know it's love when they bring you a fungus the length of your forearm that smells of wood rot.]
Unfortunately, it turns out that the polypore holds enough moisture to spawn mosquitoes and now there are quite a few floating around the case but, luckily for me, New England mosquitoes are frighteningly large and don't seem to be able to escape at the hinge seams.

My only hope now is that whatever spider lives in there will eat them all.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New England Still Life

A friend brought me produce she picked at a local farm... Somehow apples, peaches, plums, and pears all ripen at the same time up here... I don't quite understand it, but I've enjoyed eating it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sticky Crab Apple Meringues

My shortbread experiment needs more work, so in the interim I thought I'd share another crab apple failure. The New York Times had a recipe for a walnut meringue with caramelized apple and still I had some quartered and seeded crab apples in the fridge that needed to go.
I also have fond memories of a nutty meringues my grandmother used to make with pecans -- although that may only have been when she was visiting us since Iowa has lots of black walnuts -- and the addition of herbs and alcohol made it seem like the sort of recipe I was meant to make.
But then a mild cold front came in, and my meringues got sticky. I tried rebaking them, which never looks pretty but can work texturally, but the net result just wasn't exciting. The caramel crabapples were still very tart and didn't meld with the nutty meringue at all... I think it was a pretty solid fail, but I blame myself, not the newspaper.
I'll encourage JG to post his opinion, since we don't always agree on these things.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Crab Apple Preserves

JG and I were at a wedding in New Hampshire recently and came across a crabapple tree in a park. There was fruit all over the ground and the tree was chock full of fruit still, so we emptied a shopping bag and filled it full of fruit (~4 lbs). I'd never done anything with crab apples before, but we quickly discovered they're extremely tart like cranberries but with a heady apple scent, which took us into thanksgiving-style thinking. The idea was to preserve them in a spicy syrup for serving after turkey, but I was wholly unable to keep the skins from splitting during the simmer, no matter how many ways I pricked them.
Luckily, as super potent apple, they also have a very high pectin content, so I sieved the whole mess and turned it into some wildly-colored preserves that we can serve in lieu of cranberry sauce this year... unless I happen upon a wild cranberry bog up here, then we may have to have both.
How do you know that weird little fruit is a crabapple? Cut it in half; it should have a 5-star seed pattern. If it doesn't, I don't know what it is and you probably shouldn't put it in your mouth.
I attempted to make crabapple jam squares, but they went horribly awry in snack-cake kind of way. Tasty, but not what I wanted to send to my grandfather.
I think I came up with a solution today, but more experiments are required...

Recipe: Crab Apple Preserves
What I made was an amalgamation of a few failures, but this way will work the first time around.

~2 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1/2 stick cinnamon
6 black peppercorns
3 cardamom pods
1 alspice berry
1/4 tsp anise seed
1 lemon, juice and zest (or an orange, for a little less zip)

~ 2 lbs crab apples, whole

Use 1 1/4 cup sugar for every 1 lb of crab apples. Combine spices in a diffusing ball or tea bag. Bring sugar, water, citrus, and spices to a boil and simmer in a small stockpot or dutch oven, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove spices with a slotted spoon and discard. Add crab apples and simmer gently for 15 minutes. [Congratulations if your skins don't split.] Set up a strainer over a big bowl, pour the contents of the pot through, and press the solids until only the skins, stems, and cores remain -- the cores are much tougher than a normal apple. Return the contents of the bowl to the pot over medium heat and stir frequently until the preserves hit 220F (they'll foam up and come close to boiling over at about 218F). Pour into hot jars and seal. Process in a water bath, if desired.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Roasted Summer Squash

After posting the squash pizza, I realized I've never shared this preparation method. [I think it's too simple to count as a recipe]. I eat this frequently as a side dish or tossed with tomatoes and whole-grain pasta. I used to use tender calabacita (thin-skinned, variegated "little squash") whenever they were in season at my Fiesta grocery store -- about half the year -- but it works just as well with whatever variety of summer squash your neighbor or CSA gives you.

Recipe: Roasted Summer Squash

I know it's still too hot in some parts of the country for some people to turn on their big ovens, but I like to do a bunch at a time. These can go fast and two gourds per person is not out of the question. When we do have leftovers, they tend to disappear in snacking forkfuls straight from the fridge.

Summer squash or zucchini, sliced into rounds or planks 1/8- 1/4" thick
coarse sea salt or kosher salt
cracked black pepper
red pepper flakes
one clove of garlic, minced, for every 2 gourds

Preheat oven [or toaster oven if you're just doing a single gourd] to 450F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coast with cooking spray. Lay squash on pan in a single layer, spray with more cooking spray, and sprinkle with seasonings [the garlic will clump; it's not a problem].
Roast 10-15 minutes or until tops look a little dried out and brown spots are starting to appear. Flip the slices over with a spatula (try not to rip the foil) and bake an additional 10-15 minutes. Serve hot.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Microwave Popcorn

Did you know you can make popcorn in the microwave with nothing more than a paper lunch bag? The best part is that you can really taste the flavor of the corn and you can put exactly what you want on it; you need very little spray oil to make things stick. It's the fastest whole-grain, low-fat, high-fiber snack I know.
Recipe: Top-Your-Own Microwave Popcorn
The kernels can be sprayed and salted in the bag, but any herbs/ spices / cheese should be added after popping or they'll burn.

1/8 cup popcorn kernels* per person
Spray oil

Optional toppings:
pimenton [smoked paprika]
brewer's yeast
cracked black pepper
garlic powder
worcestershire powder
steak seasoning rub
dried thyme or oregano
queso seco [dry cheese, like feta]
american cheese, torn in pieces
shredded parmesean

Dump the kernels in a paper lunch sack, spray a little oil into the bag and sprinkle with salt. [The bag will absorb some of the oil; it's okay.] Fold over the top twice, pinching the fold tight each time and leaving as much air as possible in the bag. Hit the popcorn button on your microwave or nuke for ~3 minutes and stop when the kernels pop 10 seconds apart. Dump into a bowl and add whatever other toppings you choose. If you want to add cheese, return popcorn (in serving bowl) to microwave and nuke it for another ~20 seconds, watching to make sure it doesn't burn.
*I tend to use either standard yellow or black popcorn. The black popcorn pops up bright white and has very thin hulls that never get stuck in your teeth, but has less corn flavor.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Summer Squash Pizza

Here's a summer bonus for your pizza topping pleasure:
Just slice it thin and don't let it out of the oven until the edges curls and brown spots appear. It may look dried out, but that just concentrated flavor.

[Also pictured and discussed previously: whole-wheat dough, simmered tomato sauce, carmelized onions, fresh moz, and scallions]

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Grow Your Own Scallions

This is a nifty trick I picked up from my sister-in-law. I almost never buy scallions because 3/4ths of the bunch always ends up rotting in the vegetable bin, but it turns out you can keep scallions alive in water near a window. The more light they get the darker green they'll be, but they aren't that picky. You can even use all of the green part and drop the white root end in the water and it'll grow again. You can pull out that slimy bunch from the fridge, discard all the funk and as long as the root tip is okay, it'll grow back... just make sure the water level is below the greens so they don't rot again. I bought these babies almost 2 months ago and I've harvested them at least 5 times now.
Thanks, Lou!