Friday, October 31, 2008

happy (almost) hypo-allergenic halloween!

In effort to stick it to the candy corporations, but mostly for amusement, late night baking party ensued to churn out nut-free, dairy-free, egg-free vegan cookies for Halloween. Hopefully the kids don't egg us. Oh, the irony.

We used Earth Balance margarine in place of butter, and either banana or pumpkin in place of eggs. The banana cookies were very adult. They were crisp, delicately banana flavored in a non-Runts kinda way, and would have been great with ice cream. I would totally make them again, but more fancy schmancy. The pumpkin spice cookies were soft, slightly spicy, and nom nom nom. They had great texture like any chewy cookie.

If you want to try your hand at vegan cookies, or happen to be out of eggs or butter, follow approximately the following:

Heat oven to 350F. Cream 1 cup Earth Balance and 1 1/2 c unrefined sugar together till fluffy. Beat in either 1 banana or 1/2 c pumpkin, 1 tsp vanilla, some nutmeg, ground ginger, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Add 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour. Beat for a few minutes to build up some gluten. Chill dough in fridge for a bit if you have time. Or if you are dead tired, forge on!

Scoop out tablespoons of dough. Bake about 14 minutes. While you're waiting, wrestle with Word for about an hour making ingredient tags for the cookies.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

pumpkin time

Autumn is upon us, so, surprise, you're going to have to read about pumpkin. I love love love pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin scones, you name it. But since the blagosphere has already extolled pumpkin chocolate chip cookies to the point of saturation, I thought I a) should not have cookies for dinner. Again. And b) write about something savory instead.

Thus, here is Italian sausage pumpkin soup baked in a pumpkin. Well, since I lack a blender this was more like Italian sausage soup with pumpkin, but nevertheless! Consequently, this soup wasn't quite as thick as I would have liked - next time I would consider making a roux to counter the no blender issue. A handful of kale could be good, too.

Italian Sausage Soup (may contain pumpkin)

1 sugar pumpkin
half an onion, diced
1 leek, leafy green part discarded, thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 potato, skin on, cubed
1 lb sausage, removed from casing

2 c stock (chicken, veggie, whatevs)
1 c water
1 1/2 c milk
1/2 c sour cream

some Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
pepper to taste

Heat oven to 350F. Cut a lid out of the pumpkin (I had no problem using a chef knife). Scoop out the seeds and stringy bits with your hand/spoon. Save the seeds for roasting! Replace the lid and pop pumpkin in the oven on a cookie sheet.

Brown sausage in a pan. When cooked, separate meat from all that tasty oil and set aside.

In a big pot, heat some oil, throw in onions, leeks, and celery. Cook for a few minutes. Add potato. Cook few more minutes. Add sausage, stock, water, milk, nutmeg, pepper, and some grated parmesan, too. Simmer for awhile.

Check your pumpkin. When you can scoop the flesh away with a spoon, pour in as much soup as will fit. Replace lid and bake till you feel like eating. If the outside is getting too dark, cover it with some foil.

When serving, scoop out some pumpkin flesh along with the soup. Yum!

Monday, October 27, 2008

salted oatmeal cookies

Sometimes all you want is a damn oatmeal cookie.

Can you spy other interesting objects in this photo?*

Oatmeal cookies often suffer from carrot cake syndrome - they have so many add-ins including but not limited to raisins, chocolate, a whole spice ship, etc. you might as well be eating trail mix.

Enter the salted oatmeal cookie. This is a barebones recipe with just a touch of nutmeg to bring the flavors together, and coarse salted sprinkled over the top. They have a really nice butterscotchy flavor to them despite the scant amount of brown sugar (butterscotch = butter + brown sugar). I made these for a Saturday night homework party (yes, I am cool), and studying has rarely been better. Salty-sweet for the win!

Added bonus feature: oatmeal content makes them suitable for breakfast.

This is a crunchy cookie recipe. If you like your cookies slightly pliable when cool, take them out of the oven after 12 minutes. They'll look pale and undone, but that's because the dough has less egg and brown sugar than your standard cookie recipe. If you enjoy wearing your cookie, bake up to 16 minutes. Adulterate your dough with a handful of chocolate chunks if you please.

If you like soft and chewy cookies, I might experiment with using 2 eggs and/or more brown sugar and less granulated sugar.

Studiously Salted Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups rolled oats (oatmeal)
coarse salt for sprinkling (kosher or sea salt is nice)

Heat oven to 350F.
In a bowl, mix first 5 ingredients together.
In a larger bowl, beat butter and sugars together until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla. Mix till combined. Gradually add flour mixture and mix until flour is just incorporated.
Gradually add in oats till mixed.

Make ping-pong sized balls of dough and put them on a cookie sheet. Gently flatten the tops of the balls a little with your fingers. Barely sprinkle salt over the tops. It only takes a little!

Bake 12-16 minutes - 12 if you want a softer cookie, longer if you want a crispier one. Cookies will look pale.

*leopard ears, bear ears, bike light

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

espresso cheesecake brownies

This weekend I had a friend visit which translated into a blitz of the culinary indulgences Davis has to offer - late night burgers, farmers' market pastries, crepes, dinner parties, dim sum, lattes, bubble tea... And as if that wasn't enough, I had them pick any recipe out of Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours to make for dessert.

Espresso cheesecake brownies. You can't lose, right? A layer of cheesecake baked on top of a layer of brownie should totally be money.

While I won't deny I ate a fair share of the pan, I didn't really find myself craving more. The brownie layer was just sweet enough and contrasted well with its richer cheesecake counterpart, but it didn't quite hit the spot. Aesthetically, these aren't the prettiest either. The recipe called for dropping spoonfuls of brownie batter over the cheesecake layer and swirling, but we discovered that the two layers had rather different densities. The brownie batter sank straight to the bottom and resulted in what you see above.

These brownies also experience a temperature dichotomy. Straight out of the fridge, the brownie layer is too hard to cut and practically fudge (yay saturated fats!). If you let it come to room temperature, then the cheesecake layer is too warm and doesn't hold up well to slicing. Food safety gets a little dicey there, too. In all, I had fun making this but would turn to another recipe in the future!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

nom nom nom granola

Little rivals my addiction for a bowl of granola in the morning. However, I've never had much luck making my own - it's either laden with ridiculous amounts of butter and sugar, or too dry like muesli. Fortunately, there is a solution. This recipe makes a pleasantly clustery, sweet granola that is best eaten with some plain yogurt rather than milk. I made this using whatever I had in the pantry - it is open to endless substitutions, but here are the basic ratios:

Nom Nom Nom Honey Sweetened Granola
Adapted from here

2 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup sliced almonds (or other nuts of your choice)
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup honey
1 cup raisins, dried cranberries, apricots, etc.

Heat oven to 300 degrees F.

Mix the oats, nuts, grains, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Measure oil and vanilla into the measuring cup and swirl it around before pouring into bowl. Measure out the honey in the same, unwashed cup. The oil will help the honey exit the cup. Toss everything together until evenly coated and then pour out into a 9x13" baking pan lined with parchment paper. With a spatula, press mixture down into pan like you're making granola bars.

Bake 20 minutes. Remove from oven, stir up mixture to make sure everything gets evenly toasted, then press it down into the pan again. Bake 20 more minutes.

Stir up the granola and add the dried fruit. If you like your granola in big chunks, press the mixture back down into the pan to your liking. If you like it looser, stir it up a whole bunch. When cool, the mixture will harden into clusters.

*Do NOT mix fruit with the oats in the beginning. They will burn in the oven and destroy your batch of tastiness. Party foul.