Saturday, August 27, 2011

Chewy Whole Wheat Molasses Cookies


Given of the appearance of these warm, spicy cookies you might assume that I love fall, and I am eagerly anticipating crisp mornings, changing leaves, and the beginning of school. However, while these cookies would not be out-of-place nestled beside a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a juice squeeze box, I have to make a confession.

I hate fall.


Fall is the season that people who don't really like to be outside claim to love. They don't love summer, because it is virtually a crime against nature to hide from the outdoors in the air conditioning when the warm air is like a welcoming, sunny embrace and the sky makes a better ceiling for your world than any house.

They don't like winter because of the bitter chill that even cuts you when you turn the heat up (and truthfully, I don't know how ANYONE really likes winter, unless they ski...Christmas was invented to make winter palatable). 

They don't like the hesitating, joyous toddler-like steps of nature in the spring, yearning for new life...this again demands you come outside...so people who hide from the outdoors say they like fall by default.


Admittedly, the nicer days of fall can be quite memorable.  And I love the smell of fall.  (Alas, the smell of burning leaves are a distant memory because they are illegal fire hazards, much like the satisfying clinks of closing a metal lunchbox, which are now banned because they can be used as deadly weapons).  But nice fall days can be counted on your fingers and most of fall usually alternates between soggy cold damp evenings when it's too warm to turn on the heat and too cold to go sleeveless...and warm afternoons that taunt you with the dying promise of summer.
Flickr: staciecmorris

Fall for me is a season where there is a chasm between the real and the ideal. I am a summer girl: I like the confidence of good weather, running outside, and the fact that the heat and beauty of nature pushes me to take new risks with my body and life. Summer commands your attention and challenges you, fall encourages you to hibernate, and the dreary weather provides you with constant excuses not to move forward...

The difference between the real and the ideal is also manifest in the promise of school, which also begins around this time. I'm old enough so that I was able to pick my own garish school supplies, and didn't go with my mother to K-Mart armed with a list written by a Monk-like superintendent of wet wipes and mandatory black notebooks.  I loved buying a yellow Snoopy lunchbox, glitter pencils, a Trapper Keeper with a horse on it, and a Garfield notebook.  But by October, the Keeper was a snarl of half-done homework and I was once again reading unassigned Judy Blume books behind my math textbooks, paying no attention to the teacher in front of the chalkboard.
Flickr: Zellaby

I remember I was one of two kids who could read when she was in the first grade, and my teacher would give me thick collections of stories to read and give reports on--I would read the book in an evening (the texts were far below my level) and my teacher never believed that I could read that fast and still put addition marks on the wrong side of equations. If I was a school, my motto would be: "Disappointing and confusing people for 37 years and counting."  I wonder how you say that in Latin?

Fall in my area is also hurricane season, and I am not-so-eagerly anticipating the coming of Hurricane Irene as I write this.

While your oven still works, make these and give them to your children in their safe, approved soft nylon lunch sacks.  They don't contain nuts, and they are made with whole wheat flour and are relatively low in sugar. Or serve them as an after-school snack.  Please, don't serve your kids creamed spinach like my mother used to when I came home from school, or cut-up carrots and celery. That makes the fall even worse.

Chewy Whole Wheat Molasses Cookies

yields approximately 28-30 cookies

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or 1 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves and 1/4 teaspoon allspice)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper or paprika
1/4 teaspoon table salt

12 tablespoons soft unsalted butter (1 and 1/2 sticks)
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg yolk

1/2 cup molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup brown or white sugar for topping

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper
2. Sift flour, baking soda, spices, and salt
3. Cream butter and sugar together, add egg yolk, molasses, and vanilla. When well-incorporated, scoop flour mixture into the wet ingredients
4. Scoop batter into 1-tablespoon servings, roll in a bowl filled with the additional sugar
5. Leave as 'balls' (no need to flatten) and bake for 11-12 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through.  Cookies will be soft.  Do not overbake. Cool for 5 minutes on baking sheets, then remove.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

It's the cheesiest (Whole Wheat Three-Cheese Quick Bread)

I always get kind of annoyed when people try to label themselves.

Personally, I think that labeling is a an excuse more than a useful description.  Like people who say: "I can't help it, I was born late," to excuse the fact that they keep their friends waiting for 40 minutes. I'm sorry, but unless you're Judy Garland, epic lateness is rude, not a cute, bohemian quirk.


Even positive self-labeling can be pretty limiting: "I'm a braniac" or "I'm a perfectionist" can be a way of staying in your comfort zone, and cutting yourself too much slack about trying something new that doesn't use your over-developed verbal skills or might force you to take a messy but potentially life-altering risk.

I know so many people who are excellent cooks who won't even attempt to turn overripe bananas into a bread.  "I'm a great cook, but I am not a baker."

One woman I know insists that she doesn't bake because her late dog Eddie hated the rattling sound of her oven heating up.  So Susan honed her grilling abilities over the years, and proudly proclaims she even grills in the winter, regardless of the temperature. In flip-flops.

In terms of stereotype-busting, I am delighted to know a woman like Susan who does not feebly hand over the grilling fork to her husband while she shrinks away from the flame and makes a salad indoors. But surely, Eddie would have grown less sensitive to the noise of the oven over time?  Or maybe he just liked the meat Susan made on her grill and learned that if he growled and barked at the oven, he was more likely to get grilled meat than dog food?

I may be giving too much credit to canine intelligence. Then again, another friend of mine has a dog, a little fluffy white and black dog named Oreo, who was being terrorized by the dachshund of my friend's new housemate. Gentle little Oreo seemed no match for bossy little Fritzie.  Until my friend came home from work to find all of the dog toys in the house in a pile on her bed with Oreo sitting beside them. The dachshund, too short to jump up, was sitting in misery at the bottom of the bed in a crazed, exhausted heap.  "How could a nice little Oreo like you thwart my beautiful wickedness!" whimpered the dachshund as he bemoaned how his favorite squeaky toy was so near...yet so far. Supposedly, dogs are incapable of plotting and manipulation, but I wonder...

There is another explanation besides Eddie for Susan's Fear of Baking. Some people have a vendetta against sugar.

My mother, for example, raised me so that at sixteen I still had no idea that you could make cookies, cakes, brownies or even pancakes WITHOUT using a mix.  A friend of mine came to the house and asked for sugar in her tea.  We had no sugar. Sugar in my mother's eyes was White Death and later I joked that she'd probably rather I come home with white, powdery crack cocaine on my nose than refined sugar on my lips.  (Never mind the fact that we had a pantry with Special K, Miracle Whip, ketchup, commercial Worcestershire sauce, and bottled salad dressing, all of which are filled with high-fructose corn syrup).

Once, I asked for a box of sugar to feed to some horses I often saw by the side of the road in a paddock. My mother relented, but after discovering ME eating the cubes of sugar FROM THE BOX in secret, her expression was so horrified at my vice even I was revolted by my compulsion.  The cool explosion of sweetness against my tongue was so nice, though....

Arguments against sugar aside, that's no excuse not to bake. Not everyone likes sweet things, but the 'savory' side of the baking world--breads, crackers, rolls, scones, focaccia--are just as tasty in their own right. And in baking's defense, no matter what, you're always more assured of being able to find a recipe with less sugar in it compared with the pre-fab stuff you'll find on most shelves.

So Susan, this is a great savory quick bread--no yeast, no proofing involved--and it's totally sugar-free.  Just glorious cheese, cheese, and more cheese.  It's dump and stir, no fancy ingredients, and it's pure comfort food. Cut a hunk off of this bread and curl up in bed with a good book and ignore everything and anyone that might want to spoil your bliss.

Whole Wheat Three-Cheese Quick Bread

Adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe


Ingredients

1 cup finely grated Parmesan Romano cheese blend (use real grated cheese, the kind you get in your deli or supermarket 'cheese section' or grate your own)

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 1/4 cups  milk (whole milk was suggested in the original recipe, but I used skim)
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 large beaten  egg
3/4 cup sour cream (I used full fat)

4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese cut into cubes (or torn into pieces, if using sliced cheese--regardless, use real, not processed cheese, and the highest-quality you can find or afford)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter the crap outta that pan (this isn't a sweet recipe, so I can curse). Sprinkle half of the grated cheese mixture into the pan.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper together in a bowl.

3. Mix the milk, butter, egg, and sour cream together in a separate bowl.

4. Incorporate the wet and dry mixtures.  Fold in the hunks of cheddar cheese.  Pour into the prepared pan and top with the remaining grated cheese mixture.

5. Bake for 45-50 minutes.  Cool for at least an hour before removing and slicing (the bread was still warm after two hours when I made this).