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recipes

Veggies and Rice

I am now fully ensconced in the land of Texas. This takes some adjustment, as you might expect: I’m used to seeing squirrels outside, not lizards. But in a lot of ways, Beloved Husband’s hometown is a lot like mine: suburban developments, neighborhood associations, people complaining about the humidity. We even each have a Starbucks within walking vicinity, although people here prefer to drive.

In a lot of ways, that’s the most difficult thing to adjust to. Here, people hide out in their houses during the day. There’s very little public transportation — one job I was looking at would require me to drive to the bus stop, then change to another bus downtown — and everyone drives everywhere, even if it’s only a few blocks away. The heat and humidity keeps everyone tucked away inside with the air conditioning. Mentioning I want to walk to the local Starbucks gets me stares and “are you sure?”s. When I walked to the post office and back the other day (a two-mile trek), people worried. I am a strong and reasonably in-shape young woman, equipped with a cell phone that has GPS. I’m going to be okay, and if I’m not okay, I can call for help!

I shouldn’t be so self-righteous. If I had a car, I would likely drive as well. But I’m afraid of Texas traffic and the crazy looping highways, so that’s not happening.

Seriously, this is what the highways look like.

Another thing to adjust to is sharing the kitchen. We’re living with Beloved Husband’s parents to save money. I love my parents-in-law, and it’s really great living with them. They’re warm, intelligent, funny people with great taste in TV and books. BH’s mother is a vegan and an amazing cook, so food here is healthy and delicious.

There’s just one issue: I am totally afraid that my mother-in-law thinks I’m incompetent in the kitchen.

She doesn’t. Not really. I don’t think. But she is so hyper-competent in the kitchen — cooking things on all four burners, plus the oven, plus the toaster oven, plus the microwave; regularly making enough food for six people or more; never once, to my knowledge, consulting a recipe for anything — that I feel completely incompetent and make stupid mistakes around her, which need to be corrected, which further deflates my confidence on my cooking. Then she ends up correcting me and doing whatever I’ve screwed up so quickly that I don’t know what she did.

A few days ago she asked me to make the rice dish for the family as she was running errands. She did not give me a recipe: instead, she gave me a monologue. I wrote down all the ingredients, and shall attempt to replicate it here:

Ingredients:

Rice cooker

2 cups rice
4 cups water
2 carrots
1/2 onion
2 broccoli heads
cauliflower
olive oil

Spices:
cayenne
garlic powder
Mrs. Dash
parsley
turmeric
paprika
(salt)

Instructions:

Chop all the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Add vegetables to pot.

Add rice and water — double the amount of water that there is to rice.

Add olive oil (1/4 cup?)

Add spices — be generous, especially with garlic powder and tumeric, not so much with the cayenne pepper.

Turn on the rice cooker and let it sit. (Never peek at a rice cooker.) Once it’s done, fluff the rice with fork.

Thoughts: You can edit this recipe a lot, putting in your favorite veggies and taking out any you don’t like. The rice turns out a gorgeous yellow and is much less bland than most starches.

So yellow!

(That burn mark is because I let it sit for a little long, alas.)

I probably freaked out a little much about this recipe, considering its simplicity written out, but it was also the OMG FIRST TIME I AM TRUSTED WITH DINNER WHAT IF I DO IT WRONG, especially because MIL was unavailable for help. Or, as usually happens when she tries to help, doing it for me.

Beloved Husband and I actually went out that evening and didn’t get a chance to taste it before MIL ate. The next day, she called me and let me know not to skimp on the spices. “But it was good! It was very edible!”

Very edible. Totally what I’m searching for.

My mother just sent me a bunch of cookbooks as a graduation present. Win-win!

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Pumpkin Oatmeal-Craisin Cookies

Final paper turned in. I am — almost, waiting for diploma on Saturday — done with grad school. For now, anyway.

How to celebrate? More cookie baking!

For the record, I’m not actually the biggest cookie fan, and I don’t normally make cookies this often. But one of my dearest friends in the world is getting married next weekend, and is having a cookie table at her wedding. Thus, I get to do two great things: help contribute to a friend’s special day, AND have fewer things to transport south on the big move. Win-win!

So, this is a vegan recipe. I am not myself a vegan, but friends and family members are, and so I try to make sure recipes are vegan-friendly whenever possible. I also have a variety of dietary restrictions (some health-related, some religious), so I eat vegan recipes regularly, and am happy at the expansion of really good meat substitutes — I grew up eating very sad veggieburgers, which, just, no. Now, you can pry my Morningstar chik’n strips from my cold, dead fingers.

The main thing to remember when making vegan desserts is that they have nothing holding them together, really. Egg is a stiffening agent: without an egg, there’s really nothing keeping your dessert together. Egg substitute doesn’t work the way it promises on the bag — it’ll be way too dry without adding some fruit preserves or something moister.

A few years ago, my college roommate (a vegan) got married on a beautiful, hot summer day. I arrived early at the (non-air-conditioned) venue, just before the cakemaker arrived. She was in a panic, because as the beautiful, three-layer vegan wedding cake had gotten into the car, it actually started collapsing under its own weight. I spent about half an hour organizing an ice bucket brigade for the cake while she got more frosting so no one saw how maimed the cake had gotten. Believe you me, you never have more moral authority then when you’re saying, “I NEED ICE FOR THE WEDDING UPSTAIRS RIGHT NOW!”

I more-or-less made this recipe myself. I’m not actually a big fan of oatmeal raisin cookies — cookies that are healthy? What gives? — but they’re Beloved Husband’s favorite, so I’ve been working on variations of the recipe that we can both like. This time I used cherry preserves, which I think was a mistake — more on that later.

Pumpkin-Oatmeal-Craisin Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 cup sugar (can be white/brown/raw)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg/egg substitute
  • 1 teaspoon fruit jam (optional)
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (or more, depending)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon (soy) milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 ½ cups craisins
  1. Combine pumpkin, sugar, vegetable oil, and egg. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, ground cinnamon, and salt. Dissolve the baking soda with the milk and stir in. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture and mix well.
  2. Add vanilla, oats, and craisins.
  3. Drop by spoonful on greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for approximately 15 minutes or until lightly brown and firm.

I tend to use a whole can of pumpkin, and so I basically double the recipe. Instead of oats and cranberries, you can sub in nuts (walnuts work well) and/or chocolate chips. If making the recipe vegan, add a little more vegetable oil and be sure to use something that can help the cookies thicken, such as apple sauce or other fruit puree.

So, I’ve made this recipe (with variations) several times before. The last few times I’d had cranberry jam, which is perfect for a pumpkin cookie: this time I added some cherry preserves, which may have been a mistake. Because I’d mixed the dough, added everything together, it smelled great and tasted wonderful, but…

Is it just me, or does this dough look a little…green?

It was probably nothing. So I baked the first batch. My oven here is total crap (sorry I didn’t warn you, future leaser!), so I wasn’t surprised 15 minutes wasn’t enough: I put them back in for another five.

And yet…these cookies just seemed…off somehow.

Yup. They’re green.

(The cookies above are the Kahlua-Espresso Chocolate Chip cookies from the previous post. They are not green.)

I think the problem is the cherry preserves interacted somehow with the rest of the dough, and so they are slightly underbaked…and with a weird tinge. They’re definitely not spoiled, I’ve eaten several and I feel fine, but yet. Green.

So, now I have six dozen pumpkin-oatmeal-craisin cookies that are somewhat unappetizing-looking, even if they are delicious. What am I going to do?

Oh, right, I live on a college campus. I can just put them somewhere with a sign saying “FREE”.

Well, I didn’t promise perfection with this blog.

EDIT: I have redone the cookie baking without the cherry preserves, and am pleased to report that my cookies and dough are now a healthy golden brown.

What have I learned from this? Cherry preserves are the devil.

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Kahlua-Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies

I shouldn’t be doing this.

I mean this literally, this, right here. I don’t really have time to write right now: I’m less than a week from graduating from Prestigious University and moving across the country to live with my Beloved Husband. I still have one fifteen-page paper to turn in before I’m done, and the apartment is in total disarray. Half my possessions are sold, and the other half are strewn about.

But the baking bug hit, and I had nearly all the ingredients for the recipe I wanted to make and was walking by the grocery store for the one thing I didn’t have. Besides, I had to close Twitter before Judy Blume spoiled Mad Men for me. So clearly, it was meant to be.

(Original recipe here. Strikethroughs are things I didn’t use. Bold are things I went “eh!” on and added extra.)

Makes: 5 dozen ahahah, no, 7 dozen? 100 cookies.

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 Tablespoon espresso powder
1 Tablespoon Kahlua
1 cup butter, at room temperature refrigerated
1 cup light brown sugar, packed firmly granulated white sugar
1/2 cup granulated white sugar certified organic sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted & then cooled a bit
1 (12 ounce) package semisweet Ghiradelli milk chocolate chips

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with foil.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; set aside.

3. In a small dish, dissolve espresso powder in Kahlua; set aside.

4. In a large bowl, use extreme manual labor to cream butter and sugars together. Add Kahlua mixture, eggs and vanilla; beat until thoroughly combined. Add cooled, melted chocolate and continue to beat until it’s mixed in. Add flour mixture and beat at low speed until all flour is incorporated into the dough, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in chocolate chips.

5. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls (or use a cookie scoop) 2-inches apart onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown and no longer look gooey in the middles. Cool completely on wire rack wherever you can find.

Thoughts:

So, I totally lied about having all the ingredients. In the midst of cooking, I found out all my brown sugar was rock-hard and completely unusable. Alas. I’ve found that organic sugar tends to be a good match for brown sugar, though. I deleted the chocolate, because I hate things that are too rich. NOT LIKE I’M GOING TO EAT THE ENTIRE BATCH OF COOKIES BY MYSELF, RIGHT GUYS?

So, I’ve committed to the recipe — mixed the sugar, mixed the flour and the cinnamon and the baking soda (what is the difference between baking soda and baking powder?!) and in a small bowl the Kahlua and espresso powder (which smells heavenly) — when I realize that I’ve left the butter in the refrigerator. No problem, I reason, I’ll just put it in the microwave for fifteen seconds.

Then I had that awkward moment when you realize you sold your microwave last week and the only way you can get this butter to room temperature is through application of an open flame.

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Probably not a great idea for my current state, so this leaves me reverting to a primeval state: legs splayed, thin green plastic bowl between my legs, as I ineffectually stab at the way-too-hard butter in the pool of sugar with a wooden spoon.

You might ask, why do I do this? Why do I suffer through mixing by hand? And the answer is twofold: one, I’m wary of electric mixers, and two, I can’t afford one. With a mixer, would I be able to judge the texture properly? Will the mixing process be the same? Will I ever accidentally leave a lump of delicious margarine in a cookie? I could answer these questions if I ever got the chance to use a mixer. In the meantime, this is my calorie-burning workout of the night.

Once the butter and sugar coalesce into a pale yellow ball of yummy, I forget all of my frustrations and hatred. Once I add the Kahlua et al, the dough smells positively alcoholic, and tastes like a coffee frappe. Adding the flour mixture gives it a delicious cinnamon-y flavor, as well. All is good!

And then…I run into a problem I have a lot. Well, two problems.

First, I didn’t realize that this recipe made 5 dozen cookies until the dough was mixed together. That’s rather a lot of cookies.

Second…I somehow have a miraculous touch when it comes to cookies. I can make nearly double the recipe of any given cookie recipe without doubling the ingredients. It’s Gestalt-y. How do I do this? I don’t know. Am I measuring a rounded teaspoon wrong? Does flour, butter, and sugar flow from my fingertips? I can’t tell. And due to the aforementioned packing, I only have one baking pan.

So right now, batch #3 is in the oven, while batches #1 and #2 cool on the rack behind me. My apartment will be nearly a thousand degrees probably ’til near 1 in the morning at this rate. And I’m no closer to being done with my 15-page-paper.

At least I have delicious, delicious cookies to keep me company.

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