Carpe Diem

Let’s see, it’s been a month since we celebrated Lilli’s birthday party, and I have just a few weeks before Passover starts. Apologies for those expecting a gluten-free recipe for the holiday, but I’ve wanted to share these whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies for years on the blog. It’s 6:51 am, and it’s the weekend. Carpe Diem, my friends.

20190217_104631 (1).jpg

 

 

This year Lilli made it clear she did not want a cake, but rather these cookies by Kim Boyce that made the rounds, let’s see, oh, nine years ago. We baked dozens and froze them two weeks before the party, along with these spectacular and very simple blondies. We also made these halva tahini brownies that were so simple, and so so delicious, that really, the only thing you should be doing right now is melting some chocolate into olive oil.

20190217_152157.jpg

 

But yes, these cookies. They are a fan favorite. The whole wheat makes for a deeper, nuttier taste. The butter remains cold so you don’t have to plan in advance to made them as you do with most cookie recipes that call for softened butter. I promised my friend Ben a care package, and I do plan on mailing some to him. We got up early the day of Lilli’s party and made the smaller sized ones into ice cream sandwiches because, well, Carpe Diem, my friends.

20190224_082254.jpg

We had about 50 people in total to the house that day. A mix of current kindergarten friends, friends from PreK, friends from my Hebrew school class that Lilli comes to every Sunday with me, and a few pals from around town. Parents were invited to drop off or stay. Most stayed once they saw the spread in the kitchen.

This year I served: Michael Solomonov’s hummus (we used the Instapot for the first time to (intentionally) overcook the chickpeas; caramelized onion dip;  butternut squash and chickpea salad (which was kind of eh); Brussels sprouts with leeks, parmesan and chestnuts; Vietnamese tofu; peanut butter noodles; farro with dried apricots, mushrooms and hazelnuts; marinated roasted red peppers served with fresh mozzarella and crusty bread. You know, the usual fare for a six-year-old’s party

There was also the usual chips, dip, Pirate’s Booty, Lilli’s stuffed dates, pizza, and crudite for nibblers.

The kids clearly had a blast playing dress-up, doing art projects, and for some of the boys, playing tag inside the house. There may have been a lightsaber that needed confiscation.

20190224_152335 (1).jpg

 

We sang happy birthday and enjoyed the aforementioned desserts, along with a Panda chocolate chip cookie cake by Papa, and some melon. It was a great party. And I still have about a dozen cookies in the downstairs freezer, despite Rich’s best efforts to finish them.

Kim Boyce’s Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

Dry Mix

3 cups whole wheat flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

Wet Mix

8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

8 ounces chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Place two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Although you can butter the sheets instead, parchment is useful for these cookies because the large chunks of chocolate can stick to the pan.
  2. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter.
  3. Add the butter and the sugars to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, mix just until the butter and sugars are blended, about 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Mix in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
  4. Add the chocolate all at once to the batter. Mix on low speed until the chocolate is evenly combined. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then scrape the batter out onto a work surface, and use your hands to fully incorporate all the ingredients.
  5. Scoop mounds of dough about 3 tablespoons in size onto the baking sheet, leaving 3 inches between them, or about 6 to a sheet.
  6. Bake the cookies for 16 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, until the cookies are evenly dark brown. Transfer the cookies, still on the parchment, to the counter to cool, and repeat with the remaining dough. These cookies are best eaten warm from the oven or later that same day. They’ll keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

 

A New Birthday Tradition

Lilli’s birthday is at the end of the month, but her Hebrew birthday, the 14th of the month of Shvat, is on Wednesday. It is also the day before the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, or Jewish Arbor Day. And in my kitchen, that means making dishes that celebrate the seven foods from Israel that the Bible praises: wheat, barley, figs, dates, pomegranates, olives, and grapes.

Lilli loves her new toy

Lilli loves her new toy

With Lilli’s birthday so close to the holiday, my goal each year is to celebrate her Hebrew birthday using at least some of these foods in a birthday dish. I found this recipe for white whole wheat fig muffins with goat cheese filling from Maria Speck’s Ancient Grains for Modern Meals a few weeks back, when I baked up a couple of artichoke-rosemary tarts with polenta crusts. Because Rich and I both have meetings after work on Wednesday, we celebrated Lilli’s birthday today with these muffins.

I ended up taking a few liberties with this recipe, and even consulted with Maria about an ingredient substitution. We met in person a few years back when her wonderful cookbook came out and she gave a lecture at Boston University. My friend Sara was my date that night, and she was definitely a little embarrassed when I used the opportunity to promote my favorite kitchen tool, the pressure cooker, as the ideal kitchen tool to cook up all those ancient grains. (My persistence has paid off, as Sara broke down a bought a pressure cooker this week. Victory!)

The main concern I had was with the two tablespoons of honey that are mixed with the goat cheese, lemon zest and vanilla. Doctors warn about not feeding honey to babies that are younger than one because of botulism fears, so I checked with my stepfather, a doctor, about feeding a 50-week-old honey. He said it was probably fine, but warned that the spores are not killed by baking. There are some moments when it is better to be safe than sorry, so honey was out of the picture. I thought of maybe using agave nectar or Golden Syrup from the United Kingdom, but Maria suggested maple syrup.

Cream cheese filling

A word about maple syrup: People will tell you how much better Grade B syrup is than Grade A, but since I buy my maple syrup at Ocean State Job Lot, I grab whatever is on the shelf. Of course, it was at this point that Sara sent me a link about how botulism is found in both maple syrup and high fructose corn syrup. But since the two things the pediatrician warned us against were honey and milk, I decided to move forward with the maple syrup.

When I went to double check to make sure I had all the ingredients in the house, I discovered that my white whole wheat flour canister had oat flour in it, so I decided to do a mixture of whole wheat and white flour. I also decided to use the leftover cream cheese from the rugelach instead of a market run for goat cheese.

Lilli and her muffin

Maria has some notes about measuring whole grain flour which I think are worth repeating, especially since I futzed with the recipe: Use a digital scale, regardless whether you use whole grain or regular flour. If you don’t yet have a scale, she suggests using the “spoon and level” method for measuring whole grains:

Unlike when you dig your cup into your flour jar, this method results in less flour in the measuring cup and thus lighter results. Here is how you do it: Fluff or stir the flour with a fork to aerate slightly. Spoon flour into your cup until it is overflowing. Do not pat down, shake, or bang the measuring cup on the counter, as this will compress the flour. Using a knife or a slim metal spatula, sweep across the top to level the cup.

Maria also suggests having an oven preheated for at least 20 minutes, something I will try and do more frequently for my projects. As for having room temperature eggs, a few weeks back I came across a Cook’s Illustrated suggestion for placing eggs in a warm bowl of water to speed up the process. I don’t have fine sea salt in the house, so I swapped out that half teaspoon with a pinch of kosher salt. We had buttermilk in the house for a breakfast dish that Rich made for us; buttermilk is just one of those things that survives because it’s already spoiled. But I predict these muffins won’t have a long life in this house. They’re really terrific. Just ask Lilli.

Fig Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling, adapted from Maria Speck’s Ancient Grains for Modern Meals

Filling

¾ cup (3 ounces) softened cream cheese

2 Tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

(If you’re using a scale, these two mixed flour will equal 8 ½ ounces.)

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

Pinch kosher salt

3 large eggs, at room temperature

¾ cup packed dark or light brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup virgin olive oil

¾ cup buttermilk

1 cup chopped dry figs, stemmed

3 Tablespoons turbinado or granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400F. Lightly butter a standard-size 12-cup muffin pan, preferably nonstick, or coat with cooking spray.

To make the filling, combine the cream cheese, maple syrup, lemon zest, and vanilla extract in a small bowl. Beat with a fork until smooth.

To make the muffins, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, lightly whisk the eggs to blend. Gently whisk in the brown sugar and vanilla extract, and then the olive oil and buttermilk until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the egg mixture to the center of the flour mixture, and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Do not overmix; the batter should look lumpy. Fold in the dry figs.

Using a soup spoon, fill each muffin nearly half full. Add a bit more than 1 teaspoon of the cream cheese filling to the center of each muffin, gently pressing in. Top with the remaining butter. (The filling should not be visible.) Generously sprinkle the muffins with the turbinado sugar.

Bake until muffins are nicely domed, the edges start to brown, and the tops spring back when gently pressed, about 13 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before gently twisting the muffins out of the pan. Cool them completely on the rack, or eat warm.

The muffins cane be baked 1 day ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature, or frozen for up to 1 month.

No Artificial Preservatives

The fall semester started a few weeks back, which means my 57 bus and the B-train are full of students not exactly sure where they’re going. Commonwealth Avenue, down where I work, is lined with banks tabling for new customers, and eager 20-somethings in brightly-colored t-shirts want my help saving the whales, gay rights and women’s right to choose.

And then there are the freebies. There’s always some kind of vitawater or granola bar someone is offering free samples of. I wasn’t aware of how many Luna Bars and Kind bars had made their way into my backpack until yesterday afternoon, when I dumped its contents onto my dining room table in a fruitless search for my keys. (False alarm… long story.) Rich was astounded at the amount of oats and nuts I had on my person, while I was pretty astounded finally reading the voluminous ingredient lists on the wrappers.

I had made these apricot bars this weekend as a direct result of those ingredient lists. I’d made them once before, using apricot jam instead of soaking the apricots. The directions said I’d have to wait an hour for them to soften, but it turns out things were good after only about a half an hour. I brought these bars to a meeting once, along with some whole wheat chocolate chip cookies that I think are just tops. I played these down, but everyone there loved them. Sorry it’s taken me so long to share this.

The recipe comes from The Common Ground Dessert Cookbook: A collection of naturally-sweetened wholegrain desserts. The Common Ground is New England’s oldest natural foods restaurant. (Sidenote: Is it closed? I can’t tell!) It’s up in Brattleboro, Vermont, which is only an hour from where I grew up. Sometimes my mom and I would take a quick road trip up to Vermont and crunch away on a large wooden bowl of salad put out for taking on the honor system.

I think I downplayed these bars because they are nothing like the Flour granola bars I also made last spring. On the other hand, those take more than three hours to make, while these took less than an hour. These bars, like the whole wheat cheese crackers, make comforting additions to lunchboxes. Sure, there’s a lot of butter in the recipe, but something about the whole wheat flour, oats and maple syrup seems to compensate… right?

Apricot Bars

Makes 18 1 1/2”x 3” bars

There are two parts to this recipe, the filling and the crust. My advice is to start soaking the apricots for the filing before you work on the crust. I’ve only done this recipe with the maple syrup, so if anyone tries it with the honey, please do let me know how they turn out. Although the recipe lists the extracts as optional, I have them in the house and used them. The original recipe calls for whole wheat pastry flour, but I only have regular whole wheat flour. Results were pleasing.

Preheat oven to 350F. Oil a 9”x9” baking pan.

Apricot Filling

1 cup dried apricots

1 cup boiling water

1/8 – 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

1/8 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

Lay apricots in a shallow bowl and pour boiling water over them. Soak fruit until very soft, which will take between a half hour and an hour, depending on the age of your fruit. While your fruit soaks, prepare the crust.

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 cups rolled oats

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

1/2 cup butter, melted

3/8 cup maple syrup or honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Directions

Mix dry and wet ingredients, each in a separate bowl; then combine and stir well.

Press half the mixture into the bottom of oiled pan.

Prepare the apricot filling:

Drain fruit but save soaking water.

Chop soft fruit and puree it in a blender or food processor with sweetener and only as much soaking water as needed for blending.

Add extracts if desired.

Filling may be thick enough as is. However, if it seems at all runny, bring it to a simmer in a saucepan and stir in 1 teaspoon arrowroot mixed with 1 Tablespoon water to thicken.

Using a spatula, spread the filling on top of the bottom crust.

Sprinkle remaining crust over the filling and gently pat it smooth. Make sure the top crust reaches the edges and corners of the pan.

Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool completely before cutting into bars or they’ll crumble.

Letting Go

I believe in leftovers and packing lunch, which means I have a cupboard that is jammed with Tupperware, Gladware, and well-washed yogurt containers. About once a year I sit on the floor of the kitchen and empty it out, marry each container with its lid, purge singletons, and neatly stack all parts back on the shelves. Things remain tidy for about three weeks, but before long, plastic containers throw themselves to the floor when I open the cupboard door.

We’ve had one container in particular that’s been in our collection for years. It’s a huge yellow tub that once held peanut butter, and, until recently, served as the perfect vessel for our homemade ice creams. Whenever we’d whip up a batch of peach basil, or maybe some Turkish Delight, I knew I could count on the plastic tub to be just the right size for our new flavor. Until last week, that is.

Last week was our friends’ 7th annual beer and cheese party. Last year Rich and I went local, bringing both beer and cheddar that was made nearby. I simmered up a pear chutney to keep things interesting, and it went over very well. This year, due to the impending birth of the hosts’ second child, the party was moved up from the fall to August, which meant a pear chutney was out of the question. To keep things interesting, we didn’t bring a cheese, but homemade cheese crackers, which we paired with a selection of local German-style lagers by Jack’s Abby brewery in Framingham. The crackers are a Melissa Clark recipe (I know, I know, what can I say, I just can’t quit her), and they taste like a healthy Cheez-it, or a Goldfish cracker you wouldn’t mind feeding your little one. The hostess noted they were a bit like a whole wheat shortbread.

The crackers went over well, but we left the party early for a dinner party. Not all the crackers had been eaten when it was time for us to leave, so Rich left the container on the table and walked away. Which container? My beloved yellow tub. I didn’t realize until we were about 10 minutes from the party that we’d left it behind. “My container!” I whelped. “Let it go,” Rich said. “But! But!” I responded. “Let it go. Just let it go.”

Healthy Homemade Cheddar Crisps from In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite by Melissa Clark

We actually used a combo of leftover cheese bits that were in the fridge: fontina, cheddar and Parm. I say use whatever cheese or cheeses you have that you’d like. It’s your palate, after all.

Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat flour

¼ teaspoon baking powder

4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Pinch cayenne (optional)

1 ½ cup (6 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese

Directions

In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. In a food processor or electric mixer with a paddle attachment, mix the butter, salt and cayenne until creamy. Add 1 cup (4 ounces) of the cheese and mix until thoroughly combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and run the food processor or beat with the paddle until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and starts to form a ball, about 7 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic, and roll into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350F and line two sheet pans with parchment. Unwrap the log of dough and slice into rounds 3/16 inch thick. Arrange the rounds on the prepared baking sheets and place a generous pinch of the remaining ½ cup cheese on each cracker. Bake until the crackers are golden brown, about 12 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the crackers to crisp for an additional 5 minutes. Transfer the crackers to a wire rack to cool.

Clark points out that you can also place the dough between 2 sheets of plastic and roll into a rectangle 1/8 inch thick. Using a small (1 ½-to 2-inch) heart-or-fish-shaped cookie cutter, cut out the crackers and place them on the prepared sheet pans. Press the remaining scraps of dough together, reroll, and cut out additional crackers, then bake as directed.

This Is Just To Say

I talk a good game about loving my CSA and avoiding bananas because they’re shipped in from god knows where, but I’m a complete pushover when it comes to a sale on summer fruit. I would love to say I find all my berries at my local farmer’s market, but the truth is, when I swing by Star Market on the way home for milk, I always stop off in the produce section to see what’s on sale. Most women admit to a weakness for shoe sales; for me, it’s all about berries and stone fruit.

So it shouldn’t be such a surprise that last week I found myself on a lunch break at the Asian market Super 88, piling up on plums for a quarter and apricots that were three for a dollar. And I should know better. Given my Food Studies background, I know full well about the plight of the migrant worker making pennies an hour picking my fruit. In fact, I’m currently reading The American Way of Eating,Terrie McMillan’s journalistic exposé on how Americans eat.

I actually debated posting this recipe because the fruit was so inexpensive. I hemmed and hawed. I waited another day. I ate more cake. I conferenced with Sylvie this afternoon, asking her if she would be a disappointed Cheap Beets reader if I posted this recipe. As she succinctly put it: “I am never disappointed by cake recipes.” So onward we go!

When I discovered we had leftover buttermilk in the house from a cake that Rich baked for his office – a real humdinger of a birthday cake, the Dorie Greenspan one with lemon and layers of raspberry filling, all fluffed up with coconut – I decided to bake something. I found this recipe in Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day cookbook. It used up my plums and the buttermilk, and it called for whole wheat flour, so of course it’s healthy, right?

Although the recipe calls for fine-grain natural cane sugar, I used the white stuff in my pantry. To make it fine-grain, I whirled it in my food processor for about 15 seconds. I used zests from two lemons, instead of three, only because I couldn’t find a third in my crisper.

I should also make it clear that while this is a tasty plum cake, this in no way measures up to Marion Barros’ plum torte, the platonic ideal of a plum cake recipe. Rich wanted me to make that clear. He also said that my cheap Asian market plums probably weren’t even picked in this country, and that they were probably loaded with heavy metals. But we’re just going to ignore that…

I was a little nervous about removing this one from the oven before it was fully baked. It looked a little loose in places, but Heidi notes, “You don’t want to overbake this cake in particular. It will end up on the dry side, more like a scone if you’re not careful.” She goes on to suggest serving it with a “floppy dollop of maple-sweetened whipped cream.” That sure does sound nice, but maple seems so fall to me.

In terms of prepping the plums: “Some plums can be difficult. With a sharp knife, slice off two lobes as close to the pit as you can get. Cut each lobe into 4 pieces, eight total. Now slice off the two lobes remaining on the pit.”

Buttermilk Plum Cake

Ingredients

2 ½ cups/11 oz/310 g whole wheat pastry flour

1 Tablespoon aluminum-free baking powder

½ cup/2.5 oz/70 g fine-grain natural cane sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 ½ cups/355 ml buttermilk

¼ cup/2 oz/60 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled a little

Grated zest of 3 lemons

8 to 10 plums (ripe, but not overly ripe), thinly sliced

3 Tablespoons large-grain raw sugar or turbinado sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400F/205C with a rack in the top third of the oven. Butter and flour an 11-inch (28cm) round tart/quiche pan, or line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Alternately, you can make this cake in a 9 by 13-inch (23 by 33cm) rectangular baking dish; just keep a close eye on it near the end of the baking time.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, fine-grain sugar, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs and buttermilk. Whisk in the melted (but not hot) butter and the lemon zest. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir briefly, until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, pushing it out toward the edges a bit. Scatter the plums across the stop, then sprinkle with the large-grain sugar.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cake has set. A toothpick to the center should come out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.